September 20, 2018

Denver Shul Honors Ex-Angeleno

Oscar (Osi) Sladek and his wife Selma, both former Angelenos, were recently honored by Denver’s Temple Sinai with is annual Cultural Arts Award. A child Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia, Osi broadened his musical career after World War II, first in Israel and then in Los Angeles, were he became a popular entertainer at the Ash Grove and other Hollywood venues.

After moving to Denver in the 1960s, both Osi and Selma, a talented pianist, became heavily involved, as professionals and volunteers, in the Jewish community, particularly in the Jewish Community Center and became pillars of its musical programs.

As a further contribution, Osi drew on his own wartime experiences to become a sought-after speaker on Holocaust themes, addressing audiences in Colorado, California and Canada. In addition, he founded the Negba Dance Group, while Selma excelled as music composer and lyricist.

In 1977, the Temple Sinai named Osi as its first full-time executive director and, over the next two decades, he worked alongside Rabbi Raymond A. Zwerin to build the new shul into a full-fledged community synagogue. In the late 1980s, the Sladeks moved to Newport Beach, but ultimately returned to Denver to be closer to their children and grandchildren and immediately resumed their previous community involvement.

The couple’s talents have also been recognized on a wider stage, including a tribute concert in late 2016 by the Israel Association of Composers and Musicians, while the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music premiered  “Far Beyond Rubies,” a stage musical composed by Osi, with lyrics by Selma and the late Lynn Ochman.

Sharing in the community’s pride in Osi’s and Selma’s past and continuing achievements are the couple’s four children — Ron, Adena, Daniel (a film producer who supplied the material for this report) and Michael, together with their spouses, six  grandchildren— and a brand new great-granddaughter.

Here’s How You Can Provide Help to Holocaust Survivors

From left: volunteer Sarah Mizrachi, Holocaust survivor Irene Hizme and The Blue Card executive director Masha Pearl. Photo courtesy of The Blue Card.

As Jews and non-Jews alike commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, it’s worth noting that there are Holocaust survivors out there who are in dire need of help, and there are plenty of ways that you can help them.

Masha Pearl, executive director of The Blue Card, told the Journal in a phone interview that Holocaust survivors face “greater issues than the general elderly population because they are still suffering the effects of their wartime experience.”

“They’re still suffering from emotional post-traumatic stress disorder and there are many triggers, such as visiting the doctor, that just bring them back to that time,” Pearl said.

Pearl added that depression, malnutrition, higher cancer rates, and serious dental problems are among some of the other problems that Holocaust survivors face. The aforementioned issues are also among the various financial burdens that Holocaust survivors struggle with.

“The additional financial strain of the co-pays, the transportation to and from appointments and special diets are weighing heavily on them,” Pearl said. “Additionally, losing the family networks, or losing a spouse, having to pay off a funeral, and at the same time continue to remain safely at the home is a big priority for that. So all the costs that come along with remaining independent – such as homecare, housing, utilities, having a telephone emergency response system at the home to keep them safe – these really add up quickly.”

Pearl added that Holocaust survivors are afraid “of being institutionalized and being in a nursing home.”

“They prefer to remain safely in each of their home[s] as long as possible,” Pearl said.

According to a press release from The Blue Card, most Holocaust survivors in the United States live below the poverty line, meaning they have to live on less than $23,000 a year.

The Blue Card lists four ways in their press release how people can help Holocaust survivors. For financial aid to Holocaust survivors, people can donate to various organizations like The Blue Card and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles as well as fundraise for Holocaust survivors through activities like marathons or programs like Amazon Smile.

The Blue Card and local Jewish Community Centers (JCC) are among the organizations that give people the opportunity to spend time with Holocaust survivors and provide them emotional support and help for them to complete their daily tasks.  Volunteers can also do activities with Holocaust survivors.

“Companionship and friendship is extremely important to Holocaust survivors and it produces emotional health benefits,” Pearl said, as around three-quarters of Holocaust survivors live alone.

The Blue Card also recommends going to various events that feature Holocaust survivors speaking to ensure that their stories continue to be told even after they’re gone.

“There are so many ways to connect and give back to Holocaust survivors,” Pearl said in the press release. “Whether it’s making a donation, spreading awareness about those in need or listening to someone tell their story – even the smallest gesture can have a big impact on improving lives.”

This Organization Provides Financial Assistance to Holocaust Survivors In Need

Photo courtesy of The Blue Card.

With International Holocaust Remembrance Day happening on Jan. 27, it’s important to note that there is only one organization in the United States that provides financial assistance to Holocaust survivors in need: The Blue Card.

The Blue Card was first established in 1934 to provide aid to Jews in Germany who suffered under the Third Reich and was established in the United States in 1939 to help refugees who were fleeing the Nazis. Today, The Blue Card offers a variety of programs to aid Holocaust survivors, which includes the Emergency Cash Assistance Program that provides survivors with the money necessary to cover their basic necessities and the Stipend Program, which provides monthly checks for impoverished Holocaust survivors.

The Blue Card also offers programs that have the purpose of putting a smile on the faces of Holocaust survivors, one such program is called the Bring a Smile program that provides terminally ill Holocaust survivors with the opportunity to check off items on their bucket list. Another program like this is the Mazel Tov Birthday Program that gives birthday cards to Holocaust survivors.

Elie Rubinstein, vice president of The Blue Card, told the Journal in a phone interview about a recent conversation he had with a Holocaust survivor who passed away from cancer where she stated that she felt like she had “failed twice in my life” – for being unable to save her little brother from the gas chambers and for having to be dependent on The Blue Card in order to get by.

“I think it’s our responsibility as members of the Jewish community to provide people with this much need of support so they can live with dignity,” said Rubinstein.

Rubinstein also noted that Holocaust survivors have a 2.5 times higher incidence rate of cancer than those of the same age who weren’t in concentration camps, with women typically facing breast cancer and men facing colorectal cancer.

“The immune system was so compromised in their formative years so late in life it comes and catches with them,” said Rubinstein.

According to a press release from The Blue Card, “Holocaust survivors face a higher rate of chronic and acute illness” in general due to the damage taken by their immune systems during the Holocaust, which puts more stress on their finances. The press release also noted that “61% of survivors live on less than $23,000 per year” and around “one-third of the approximate 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today live at or below the poverty line.” Additionally, the vast majority of Holocaust survivors live alone and are over 75 years old, according to The Blue Fund’s website.

Overall, The Blue Card sees a 20% increase in requests for aid every year.

“On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we want to honor the memories of those we lost by remembering those survivors still with us who are trying to live their remaining years in dignity,” Masha Pearl, Executive Director of The Blue Card , said in a press release. “For those senior citizens that survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, many are struggling to make ends meet in the face of a growing number of medical issues, the rising cost of living and challenges navigating the health system.”

“The time to help is now. The mission of The Blue Card to help survivors is incredibly time-sensitive. As we remember this dark time, we are looking to the larger community to spread awareness about those still in need, and to help us find others who can use a helping hand.”

Visit BlueCardFund.org to donate and find out more information about the organization.

High school pupils enact scenes from survivor stories

Santa Monica High School students act out a scene from Erika Fabian’s story on March 22. Photo by Eitan Arom.

“David Lenga?”

Gavin Graham, 17, stood up.

“I am David,” he said.

The other student, playing a Nazi trooper — a tall, bespectacled girl in an overcoat with a felt swastika band around the upper arm — looked him over.

“Run,” she said. “Just run and don’t come back.”

It would have been a tense scene to act out in any theater — perhaps the most fraught moment in the Holocaust story of a man who never saw his younger brother again after being sent away, mysteriously, miraculously, from the deportation center where they were being held.

But the scene was made all the more nerve-racking for the teenagers bringing it to life due to the fact that there, in the second row, among the almost 150 who gathered in the theater of the Santa Monica High School (Samohi) Humanities Center to watch the show, sat David Lenga, in the flesh.

“It was definitely a ton of pressure,” Graham said after the show.

The “Voices of Survivors” performance on March 22, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, was the culmination of an eight-week collaboration between Samohi’s theater department and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). The project paired four Holocaust survivors with groups of students who acted out scenes from their harrowing stories of survival.

“It was heart-wrenching,” said Lenga, a spry 89, of watching his story performed. “When I saw it depicted here, it really all came back.”

But he said it was worth it, for the sake of teaching the students to be vigilant against the creeping signs of dictatorship and tyranny even in the modern age. And in the end, despite the minimal props and stage elements and the students’ lack of acting experience, he felt they did well.

“I had my doubts they could carry it out, because it’s so difficult and so wrenching,” he said, holding a bouquet of flowers they presented to him after taking their final bow. “But they really did a good job. They really did.”

Preparation began eight weeks earlier when the 35 students in Samohi’s introductory acting class, most of whom are  not Jewish, visited the museum to learn about the Holocaust and how to interview survivors. The following week, over three days, they met with the four survivors — Lenga, Avraham Perlmutter, Edith Frankie and Erika Fabian — to hear  their accounts.

“As a high school teacher, I very rarely see that kind of silence from students,” Samohi theater director Kate Barraza said of the encounter.

LAMOTH furnished educational material while a mentor from Writer’s Room  Productions, a writing education organization, assisted each of the four groups in scripting their scenes. Students wrote, directed and eventually performed each story, handling the details down to lighting
and sound.

“It really came entirely from the students’ hearts,” LAMOTH creative programs director Rachel Fidler, who headed up the museum’s participation, said at the event.

The performances drew on some of the more tense scenes from each survivor’s account, such as Fabian unsuccessfully trying to cross the border from communist  Czechoslovakia into Austria after World War II with her mother and sister, and Perlmutter jumping from a moving van to escape Nazi captivity.

The program was meant to have students not just hear from survivors but also engage with their stories.

“You can see the numbers and the pictures, but to have the guy in front of you that it happened to — that’s really an experience,” Graham said.

Frankie, 85, is so used to telling her tale to students and other groups, that it didn’t faze her to see it performed.

“It was pretty true to my story,” she said of the performance.

Clutching the bouquet the student performers had presented to her, she sat outside the theater with LAMOTH special projects coordinator Michael Morgenstern dutifully manning her wheelchair as she waited for her son to drive her home.

“I always say, ‘If I touched only one student with my story, then I did my  purpose.’”

Soviet survivors know where to find local support

Two members of the Association of Holocaust Survivors from the Former Soviet Union distribute food during a recent meeting in West Hollywood. Photo by Olga Grigoryants.

Like many grandparents, Yefim and Frida Yufa enjoy talking about their grandchildren, bragging about the kids’ academic achievements and showing off their grades. But those stories take on a new meaning when told in a group of Holocaust survivors, many of whom once hardly expected to reach old age.

“Coming here makes you want to dress up and meet people,” Yefim, 84, said. “I know everyone by name as well as their children and grandchildren. We are like a family here.”

The group is a part of the Association of Holocaust Survivors from the Former Soviet Union, run by Russian-speaking volunteers in West Hollywood.

The association that once was created to help newly arrived immigrants find housing and jobs is becoming a place where aging members share their joy of socializing, giving people like the Yufas a chance to tell their stories.

Yefim Yufa was 9 years old when the Nazis invaded his native town of Zhmerynka, Ukraine, in 1941. Soon, soldiers herded him, his parents and brother into a ghetto encircled by barbed wire.

Yufa was forced to work with other boys his age at a stable operated by Romanian soldiers. Often, the guards gave boys a piece of bread, the most precious gift for malnourished children.

Food was scarce. Inmates died from typhus and other diseases almost every day. Out of 36 relatives, only Yufa, his brother and their parents survived.

When the war ended, Yufa attended a textile institute in Ukraine. In 1991, he immigrated to Los Angeles with his wife, Frida, and their two daughters. A year later, the couple joined the association.

“For some of us,” he said, “being here is the only opportunity to meet others and spend time with their friends.”

Frida Yufa, 74, who was born in a concentration camp, is the youngest member of the group.

Her family lived in Bessarabia, modern-day Moldova, when the Nazis seized its hometown and forced the family into a concentration camp in Ukraine. When Frida was born, in 1943, her parents scrambled to find a piece of fabric in which they could wrap their baby. A Jewish woman, named Frida, offered a set of old bed sheets in exchange for naming the baby after her.

Frida was still a child when the war ended, but she already had lost most of her relatives.   

“I grew up without aunties, grandmothers and grandfathers because they all were killed in the Nazi camps,” she said. “I don’t even have their photos, as if they never existed.”

The Yufas joined the association when it began, in 1992; Frida became a secretary a few years ago.

The association was founded by the late Si Frumkin, a vocal activist who advocated for bringing Russian Jews to the United States as part of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews.

By the mid-1970s, more than 72,000 Jews had migrated from the Soviet Union, many of them settling in Los Angeles. Frumkin and his organization helped the members navigate government agencies, find housing and locate jobs. 

As Holocaust survivors age into their 80s and 90s, the group has shifted its focus to support the members’ needs. Now, the group is more like a social club, providing a supportive environment for survivors. Together, they celebrate birthdays, the New Year and Jewish holidays.

“Many people are getting older, and communication becomes a very important aspect of our lives,” said Simon Shpitalnik, 85, the association’s president. “We love spending time together.”

For birthdays, the group sends its members $25 gift cards and visits those who moved to nursing homes.

Every month, the association collects a $2 fee from its members. Other funds come from sponsors, including Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. The city of West Hollywood provides meeting space in the Plummer Park auditorium.

Over the past few years, the group published two books in English and Russian, “Victims of the Holocaust Are Telling Their Stories” and “The Holocaust Did Happen.”

Every Monday, a group of about 10 volunteers, also known as a committee of team leaders, gathers in the auditorium to plan upcoming events, write obituaries of deceased members and organize monthly trips to Desert Hot Springs.

“Being here is our reward for our stolen childhoods,” said Yevgeniya Netes, 80, a native of Ukraine and an association member for 18 years. “We are very close.”

Like many survivors from the former Soviet Union, Netes reads Russian newspapers and watches Russian TV. The group provides a setting where she can speak Russian and feel at home.

“I want to spend time with people who have the same background,” said Netes, whose family was forced into a ghetto after the Nazis occupied her hometown. “We support each other a lot.”

For Yefim Yufa, his volunteer work helps him stay connected with fellow seniors.

Since 2005, the number of members has declined to 200 from 351 as more survivors have become bedridden or moved into nursing homes.

Some groups lost their team leaders, and the association has been struggling to replace them with new volunteers.

“People are getting older, and it’s not easy to convince them to volunteer at our age,” Frida Yufa said.

Mikhail Rozenfeld, 86, another former concentration camp inmate, said having the group available makes it easier to deal with living without relatives.

When World War II broke out, Rozenfeld lived with his parents, brother and sister in the western part of Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, Rozenfeld’s mother was taken from her home and sent to a concentration camp, where she died.

When young Rozenfeld tried to flee his hometown with his father and brother, the Nazis captured him. He spent the next several years in various concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He never saw his parents and brother again.

After the war, Rozenfeld moved to Donetsk, Ukraine, where he met his future wife, Frida. When the couple immigrated to Los Angeles in 1995, they were warmly welcomed by the association’s members.

“When we moved here, we didn’t have any friends, and the people from the association accepted us as if we were their relatives,” he said. “If I need anything, I always call them.”

A recent meeting quickly turned into an impromptu birthday celebration for Frida.

More than a dozen committee members sat at a square table covered with a blue polka-dot tablecloth. A few bottles of pear juice sat next to plastic boxes filled with tomatoes and grapes. Two women distributed pirojki, fried patties of potatoes and meat. The U.S., California and West Hollywood flags leaned against the wall. Several posters displayed photos from the group’s 25th anniversary celebration in January.

Yufa sat quietly next to Frida as members read their birthday wishes.

One member said, “Frida, the CIA is still trying to find out how you preserved your beauty.”

“You are just as beautiful as Melania Trump,” another said.

Netes said even though the group’s size has been shrinking, the association’s work is in full swing, and members are always happy to spend time with one another.

“It’s painful to see people passing away,” she said. “But what can you do? We have to keep going.”

Letters from rabbis, Holocaust survivors decry Trump Israel envoy pick David Friedman

President Donald Trump's candidate for ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Photo taken in June 2016 by Mike Segar/REUTERS.

Letters to the Senate from hundreds of rabbis, and dozens of Holocaust survivors and scholars say the abuse of the term “kapo” by President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, should be a factor in considering his confirmation.

An array of liberal Jewish groups organized three separate letters this week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: one each from rabbis and cantors, from Holocaust survivors and from Holocaust scholars. The letters will be delivered to senators on the committee before Friedman’s confirmation hearing commences Thursday.

The letters from the rabbis and the cantors, which has accrued more than 600 signatures from clergy of all streams, and from 31 Holocaust survivors urge the committee to reject Friedman.

The 29 Holocaust scholars – including a handful not based in the United States – in their letter stop short of a call to reject Friedman, but say: “We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.”

Each of the letters focuses principally on Friedman’s use of the term “kapo” to attack J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle Eastern policy group.

“The historical record shows that kapos were Jews whom the Nazis forced, at pain of death, to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps,” the Holocaust scholars say.

“These Jews faced terrible dilemmas, but ultimately were made into unwilling tools of Nazi brutality. To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain.”

The survivors call Friedman’s use of the term “slanderous, insulting, irresponsible, cynical and immensely damaging to our people.”

The rabbis call it the “very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors” and also focus on Friedman’s long association with the settlement movement, including major donations.

“We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the U.S. as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology,” their letter says.

Friedman is a longtime friend and lawyer to Trump.

Organizing the push to persuade the Senate to block his confirmation are J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group.

Partners for Progressive Israel, a group affiliated with leftist Zionist parties in Israel, urged its activists on Monday to call senators and voice their opposition to Friedman.

Christians United for Israel ran a full-page ad in the Capitol Hill daily, The Hill, on Tuesday urging Friedman’s confirmation and was set to run a similar one on Wednesday in the Washington Post.

“The only serious complaint about Friedman is that some disagree with him on policy,” said the ad.

“They don’t like his support for Jewish communities in the West Bank. They object to his skepticism towards a two-state solution,” it said. “But agree or not – these views are far from extreme. Friedman’s positions represent those of a significant and growing percentage of Israelis and Americans.”

‘Remember the 11 Million’?

Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence.

“Five million non-Jews died in the Holocaust.”

It’s a statement that shows up regularly in declarations about the Nazi era. It was implied in a Facebook post by the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson’s unit on Jan. 27 marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And it was asserted in an article shared by the Trump White House in defense of its controversial Holocaust statement the same day omitting references to the 6 million Jewish victims.

It is, however, a number without any scholarly basis.

Indeed, say those close to the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, its progenitor, it is a number that was intended to increase sympathy for Jewish suffering but which now is more often used to obscure it.

The White House statement sent waves of dismay through the Jewish community, including among groups that have been supportive of President Donald Trump.

By mentioning the “victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust” without mentioning the Jews, said a host of Jewish organizations, the statement risked playing into the hands of the European right, which includes factions that seek to diminish the centrality of the Jewish genocide to the carnage of World War II.

In defending the omission of Jews from the statement, a White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, sent CNN a link to a 2015 Huffington Post-UK piece titled “The Holocaust’s Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By the Nazis.”

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, appeared to cite the same source on Jan. 30, saying that the Nazis’ victims included Roma, gays, the disabled and priests. He called complaints about the statement “pathetic.” In the wake of the controversy, the world’s two leading Holocaust museums, in Washington and in Jerusalem, issued statements emphasizing the centrality of the annihilation of the Jews to the understanding of the Holocaust; neither mentioned Trump.

The “5 million” has driven Holocaust historians to distraction ever since Wiesenthal started to peddle it in the 1970s. Wiesenthal told the Washington Post in 1979, “I have sought with Jewish leaders not to talk about 6 million Jewish dead, but rather about 11 million civilians dead, including 6 million Jews.”

Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli Holocaust scholar who chairs the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, said he warned his friend Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, about spreading the false notion that the Holocaust claimed 11 million victims — 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews.

“I said to him, ‘Simon, you are telling a lie,’ ” Bauer recalled. “He said, ‘Sometimes, you need to do that to get the results for things you think are essential.’ ”

Bauer and other historians who knew Wiesenthal said the Nazi hunter told them he chose the 5 million number carefully: He wanted a number large enough to attract the attention of non-Jews who might not otherwise care about Jewish suffering, but not larger than the actual number of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, 6 million.

It caught on: President Jimmy Carter, issuing the executive order that would establish the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, referred to the “11 million victims of the Holocaust.”

Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote in 2011 how the number continues to dog her efforts to teach about the Holocaust.

“I have been to many Yom HaShoah observances — including those sponsored by synagogues and Jewish communities — where 11 candles were lit,” she wrote in an article in the Jewish Review of Books in which she lacerated Wiesenthal’s ethical standards. “When I tell the organizers that they are engaged in historical revisionism, their reactions range from skepticism to outrage. Strangers have taken me to task in angry letters for focusing ‘only’ on Jewish deaths and ignoring the five million others. When I explain that this number is simply inaccurate, in fact made up, they become even more convinced of my ethnocentrism and inability to feel the pain of anyone but my own people.”

The problem, according to Bauer, who has debunked the number repeatedly in his writings over the decades, is not that non-Jews were not victims; they were. It is that Wiesenthal’s arbitrarily chosen tally of non-Jewish victims diminishes the centrality to the Nazi ideology of systematically wiping any trace of the Jewish people from the planet.

In fact, he said, the term “genocide” could accurately be applied to the 2 million to 3 million Poles murdered and millions more enslaved by the Nazis. But the mass murder of the Poles, Roma and others should not come under the rubric “Holocaust,” a term that Holocaust historians generally dislike because of its religious connotations but nonetheless have accepted as describing only the annihilation that the Nazis hoped to visit on the Jews.

“All Jews of the world had to be annihilated,” Bauer said. “That was the intent. There was never an idea in Nazi minds to murder all the Russians.”

The number 5 million also adheres to no known understanding of the number of non-Jews killed by the Nazis: While as many as 35 million people were killed overall because of Nazi aggression, the number of non-Jews who died in the concentration camps is no more than half a million, Bauer said.

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that Wiesenthal, in advancing the number, “never intended to minimize the Jewish specificity of the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

“He was trying to draw attention to the fact that there were other victims of Nazi genocide,” Weitzman said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who founded the Wiesenthal Center and delivered the benediction at Trump’s inauguration, told CNN on Jan. 31 that Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was a “mistake,” but one he did not believe was intended to diminish Jewish suffering.

“I do not accuse President Trump of wanting to dishonor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust who were Jewish, but it was a mistake,” he said.

Lipstadt, writing in The Atlantic, is not so sure.

“It may have all started as a mistake by a new administration that is loath to admit it’s wrong,” she wrote. “Conversely, it may be a conscious attempt by people with anti-Semitic sympathies to rewrite history. Either way, it is deeply disturbing.” n

Holocaust survivors weigh in on Trump-Hitler comparison

One Sunday morning in March, Henry Oster was watching the news in bed when a video came on of then-candidate Donald Trump asking a crowd in Florida to raise their right hands and pledge to vote for him.

“I almost fell out of bed. It was that kind of a shock,” Oster said.

For Oster, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Germany, the episode was reminiscent of ugly scenes from his youth. Oster, 88, of Woodland Hills, is rare among those comparing now President-elect Trump to Adolf Hitler in that he was around to watch firsthand as both rose to power.

Yet what some survivors find to be an apt metaphor, others find unsettling or even insulting. Witnesses of the Jewish genocide, like the rest of the voting public, are split on the idea of Trump as a latter-day Hitler. 

“Come on, give me a break,” David Wiener, 90, said when asked about the comparison. 

Wiener saw the inside of Birkenau and was dispatched on a death march before being liberated by American troops on April 13, 1945. He later started several successful businesses in Southern California and now lives in Beverly Hills. 

“This topic is an insult to people,” he said. “No comparison. We have a Congress here. We have a Senate. We have a Supreme Court.”

Besides the constitutional protections of a democracy that is more than 200 years old, the United States has the additional protection of being a multi-ethnic state. Unlike Germany, where a majority of people were ethnic Germans, he said: “We’re not one race.” 

That makes it unlikely the United States will go the way of the Weimar Republic. 

“It will never happen here, God forbid,” Wiener said.

He added, “It doesn’t enter my mind. I know people think that way. No, no, no.”

Even some survivors who don’t particularly like the president-elect found the comparison off-putting.

Bob Geminder, 80, of Palos Verdes, takes issue with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, saying he generalizes about Muslim refugees in a way that is “very, very upsetting.” But comparisons between Trump and Hitler are “ridiculous, totally ridiculous,” he said.

Geminder is in a position to know the depths of Nazi depravity: He was 6 years old in 1941, when he saw 12,000 Jews shot to death in the Jewish cemetery of Stanislawow, then part of Poland. The killing stopped only when the failing light and falling snow made it difficult to proceed.

“I don’t like anybody being compared to Adolf Hitler,” he told the Journal. “There is no one, no one in the world who has ever been — and hopefully never will be — that one can compare to Adolf Hitler.

Like Geminder, Adela Manheimer, 95, is no great admirer of the next president: “I’m not for Trump.” 

Manheimer, born in the town of Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, was 18 when German troops took the town in September 1939 and narrowly escaped numerous selections for Auschwitz throughout the war. She now lives in the Beverly Grove neighborhood and boasts of six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

She takes a positive attitude when talking about the country her descendants will grow up in. 

“I expect a good change and I don’t believe that Trump is a Hitler,” she said. “I don’t believe that he’s an anti-Semite. I hope for the best of the best, that we will have a good life in the coming years.”

Eva Nathanson, 75, is not so optimistic.

“Ever since the results of the election, I’ve been depressed as hell,” she said.

Nathanson, who was born in 1941 in Budapest and now lives in the Fairfax District, was an enthusiastic supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Watching results come in on election night, she said, “I kept on thinking it was a nightmare — I was going to wake up from it.”

Now, she’s not sure where she fits in with Trump’s America. “This is the first time I’ve been in this country — and it is 59 years, almost — that I have ever been afraid as a Jew and as a human being of what’s going to happen,” she said.

She admits to avidly comparing Trump to Hitler. Though she is too young to have seen the Third Reich come to power, she’s nonetheless alarmed by what she sees as a rising tide of anti-Semitism inspired by Trump’s rhetoric.

“It’s just really bad news. Not only for Jews, but for everybody, I think,” she said.  “I’m not even worried for myself, as much, because I’m 75. I’m worried about my children and grandchildren.”

Oster also worries about Trump’s campaign rhetoric. For him, “Make America Great Again” sounds a bit too much like “Germany must rise again,” a Hitler-era slogan.

He sees other subtle Nazi throwbacks in Trump’s campaign: His scapegoating of minorities and tendency to speak on stages lined with dozens of flags, for instance. 

“Now, he doesn’t yell and scream like Hitler did,” Oster said. “But the insults, the demeaning other candidates, holding himself obviously as being superior … has a great similarity.”

So convinced is he of that similarity that when TIME magazine put then-candidate Trump on its cover, Oster sent it back to the editors with a Hitler mustache drawn on Trump’s face. 

Oster has some faith that Trump’s campaign promises are just that — promises, as easily made as broken. “I cannot see America permitting itself to become a ghetto by building walls or fences around it,” he said.

Nonetheless, he’s alarmed by a wave of hate crimes that are “sort of sweeping the country.”

On a recent trip to speak about his Holocaust story in the small Bay Area city of Lafayette, he saw an apparently Jewish-owned dry cleaner with something like “Make America Great, Don’t Buy Here” scrawled on it.

“It’s devastating for you to see that, especially [someone] who has seen it 70-some-odd years ago,” he said. “These things, unfortunately, have to be handled. Now the test of how great we really are depends on how we respond to it.”

Florida Holocaust survivors back in Warsaw to perform in former ghetto

A musical duo of Holocaust survivors from Florida who have toured the United States returned to their native Poland to perform there for the first time, at an outdoor concert in Warsaw.

Krakow-born Saul Dreier, 91, and Reuwen Sosnowicz, 89, landed in the Polish capital Thursday to perform next week before some 500 people on Grzybowski Square, which was part of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Polish television and radio stations will be broadcasting their concert live to millions of people, according to From the Depths, an organization which does Holocaust commemoration work in Poland.

Dreier learned to play the drums in one of three concentration camps he survived. A cantor taught him to play using spoons, he said.

Sosnowicz, who was born in Warsaw and for whom this is the first visit to his native country since he left after the Holocaust, has been playing the accordion all his life. He was saved by Polish non-Jews who hid him during the Holocaust and then immigrated to Israel before leaving for the United States.

“I am very excited to return to my childhood hometown,” he told JTA. “I am not happy to face the memories of the war but I have to return before I go to heaven as an ambassador for peace, play my beautiful Jewish music and tell the world that we must all live in peace and that love and respect for each other will triumph hate and killing.”

Both he and Dreier lost most of their family members in the Holocaust. They started their duo, the Holocaust Survivor Klezmer and Multicultural Band, in 2014 and have since performed in Florida, New York and Las Vegas.

During their visit, Sosnowicz and Dreier are scheduled to visit Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, and the former Treblinka camp. They intend to play without an audience not far from the camp in memory of the people killed there. They will also visit the Polish presidential palace, for a meeting with several cabinet ministers.

At the Warsaw concert, they will be sharing a stage with Muniek Staszczyk, one of Poland’s best-known rock stars.

From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels said his group helped raise some of the tour’s costs because the musicians need to be able to “share their message with thousands and make them their witnesses,” especially at a time when  “the greatest generation, the generation of survivors, sadly is passing away.”

US sales of ‘Mein Kampf’ will benefit Holocaust survivors in Boston

The U.S. publisher of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” says it will donate all revenues from the infamously anti-Semitic book to a Jewish organization that helps Holocaust survivors in the Boston area.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is based in Boston, had initially planned to donate proceeds from the Nazi leader’s tract to several non-Jewish cultural organizations, but changed plans after Jewish leaders criticized it, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

The publisher worked with Boston’s Jewish federation to determine “how best to provide aid directly to the victims of the horrific events of the Holocaust,” Andrew Russell, the publisher’s director of corporate social responsibility, said in a statement, according to the AP.

Proceeds will be directed to Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston for “direct support of the health and human services needs of (Holocaust) survivors,” Russell said.

From 2000 until last year, proceeds from “Mein Kampf” had gone to various organizations that fight anti-Semitism. However, according to the AP, last year Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced plans to use the money for cultural organizations as well, prompting an outcry from Jewish critics.

“JF&CS will direct the grant money exclusively to support the needs of the Holocaust survivors we meet with every day,” the Jewish agency’s CEO, Rimma Zelfand, said in a statement. “As Holocaust survivors grow increasingly frail, many of our clients have a far greater need for care than is covered by our existing funding.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt declined to say how much money “Mein Kampf” brings in each year.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has published a version of the book continuously since 1933, according to the AP. During World War II, proceeds went to the U.S. Justice Department. From 1979 until 2000, the publisher kept the proceeds for itself, and has since donated it.

The New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League applauded the decision to donate all the proceeds to JF&CS.

“It’s a reminder that efforts need to be put into combatting anti-Semitism, educating the next generation about the Holocaust and, of course, supporting the victims,” Trestan said.

“Mein Kampf” recently was re-published in Germany for the first time since World War II, and a new annotated edition sold out on the first day it was available in January.

Amsterdam to pay Jewish community $11M for Holocaust survivor taxes

The city of Amsterdam will give its Jewish community $11 million as compensation for taxes imposed on Holocaust survivors who returned home to the Dutch capital following World War II.

Upon their return, according to an article in The Telegraph on Monday, the survivors were made to pay a tax because their homes were left empty during the Holocaust. They also had to pay back taxes for the years they had been taken away from the city, as well as insurance fees.

The taxes were discovered by a student in 2013, and that year, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said the city should “put it right,” according to The Telegraph. On Friday, the city said it would pay the $11 million — an estimate of the total taxes paid by survivors following the war.

“Amsterdam has 5 million to 10 million euros in its coffers that it doesn’t want, and we have no right to it, so we want to give it back to the Jewish community to be used for important projects,” a spokesman for the mayor said, according to the Telegraph. “Finding the individual people or their relatives would be very costly and complex, and that is not the idea.”

The city has suggested the money be put toward a Holocaust memorial monument or community programs.

Survivors’ welfare is a public, private and community responsibility

They survived unimaginable horrors, yet went on to live productive lives, despite the haunting memories, the profound loss and physical scars from years of deprivation. Now many Holocaust survivors need our assistance so they may live their twilight years with dignity in their homes and communities.

Most Holocaust survivors are in their 80s and 90s, and an astounding 25 percent of them in the United States live in poverty, struggling to meet basic needs for food, housing, health care and transportation. Many live alone and have no extended family who survived the Holocaust. Spouses who used to provide support are no longer living. Each year, just as we lose many survivors, we also see others coming forward, identifying themselves as Holocaust survivors in desperate need of assistance.

As survivors age, they face challenges different from other older adults. Some suffer from delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder, making it more difficult to live in assisted living or nursing homes, where institutional life, with its uniformed staff, regimented schedules and rules can lead to flashbacks of concentration camps or other periods of confinement. Unfamiliar showers can be a frightening reminder of gas chambers.

Multiple studies have found that survivors are more likely than others to experience anxiety and nightmares.

We cannot let this happen.

For many survivors, social services are their lifeline. Home care, the most expensive of these vital services, costs an average of $20 per hour per survivor. With approximately 125,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S., it will take extensive resources to serve even the neediest of survivors. The German government, through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, provides the majority of the funding for social services, but survivor needs are exceeding available funding.

Local communities have taken note, and we’re inspired by the philanthropic campaigns that are working to educate the community. Together we’ve raised more than $30 million over the past couple years.

Additionally, companies have stepped up to help. We’re grateful for the partnership between the Alpha Omega dental fraternity and Henry Schein Cares to offer Holocaust survivors pro bono dental care, and the generosity of the Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide hearing aids free of charge to survivors in need.

Finally, government leaders are recognizing the specialized assistance that aging Holocaust survivors require. Vice President Joe Biden announced the White House’s initiative to help Holocaust survivors in 2013. This resulted in numerous avenues for assistance.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this year, President Barack Obama declared, “Governments have an obligation to care for the survivors of the Shoah because no one who endured that horror should have to scrape by in their golden years.”

In March, Jewish federations distributed $2.8 million in federal grants to assist programs for Holocaust survivors. Coupled with the required matching funds, the disbursement results in $4.5 million for survivor services. For the first time, the federal government will soon issue guidance to states on serving Holocaust survivors, as required by the Older Americans Act Reauthorization that cleared Congress in April.

A few states and local governments are providing assistance as well. In Florida, for example, local Jewish federations worked together to obtain a special state appropriation for Holocaust survivor services, while in New York City last year, the mayor and City Council approved a budget including $1.5 million to assist Holocaust survivors living in poverty. More states and local governments should follow these leads in pursuing special appropriations.

Perhaps more impactful is that we encourage Germany to continue to fulfill its moral responsibility by providing additional financial resources for social services for Holocaust survivors, as recently called for in bipartisan resolutions in the U.S. House and Senate.

Both of our families managed to overcome great odds and survive the Holocaust, fortunate to be able to re-establish their lives in America and prosper. Not every Holocaust survivor was so lucky. They are the survivors who need our help. We must volunteer our time, visit Holocaust survivors and engage them in their Jewish communities.

These survivors are our heroes, our teachers and our mentors. One day they will no longer be with us. Until that day comes, we are obligated to ensure that they live their remaining days and years in dignity.

When future generations ask if the Jewish community took care of its Holocaust survivors, let that answer be a resounding “yes.”

Mark Wilf is president and co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and a board member of JTA’s parent organization, 70 Faces Media. Todd Morgan is the founder and chairman of Bel Air Investment Advisors.  Together they co-chair the Jewish Federations of North America's Fund for Holocaust Survivors.

LAMOTH expands Memoir Project with call for more

Gary Steinberg, son of a Holocaust survivor, recently donated to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) signed copies of his father’s memoir.

Steinberg’s father, Manny, died this year at the age of 90, shortly after completing a memoir that had sat, unfinished, in a box for all of Steinberg’s childhood.

So the question that interests Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, is how many more memoirs and manuscripts written by Los Angeles Holocaust survivors continue to sit in boxes, collecting dust?

And on May 1, at the museum’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, Hutman plans to announce the museum’s expansion of the Remember Us Memoir Project, which connects high school and college students across Los Angeles with specific memoirs and Holocaust narratives, giving the students an opportunity to personally identify with individual survivors. As part of the project, students meet with the authors or, if they are no longer living, they meet with the survivors’ relatives.

“I know there are many, many more boxes of incomplete manuscripts in closets and garages and storage areas around Los Angeles that risk invisibility if they are not preserved and archived,” Hutman said in an interview.

To expand its Remember Us collection, LAMOTH is inviting donations of Holocaust memoirs from survivors and their families. She said the museum currently has between 75 and 100 memoirs but wants to collect hundreds more.

“Every day, somebody is cleaning out their garage and giving books away, and those precious gems are possibly being given to stores and maybe even meeting worse ends,” Hutman said.

The expansion of the project already has gotten seed funding of $20,000 from LAMOTH board member and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, whose memoir, “Nothing to Lose But My Life,” is currently used in the Remember Us curriculum by students at Milken Community High School and at Loyola Marymount University.

The funds will be used for staffing and for materials needed to archive new memoirs and manuscripts, including shelving, cataloguing and digitizing. The current collection can be seen in the museum’s atrium, and the expanded collection will be accessible in the museum’s library and archives. Portions will also be shown on rotation in the museum’s bookstore and memoir library.

Hutman said LAMOTH will accept self-published books in any condition and any quantity, including manuscripts (partial and completed), notes and documents written by survivors and immediate family members with connections to Los Angeles. She added that the museum hopes ultimately to digitize its entire memoir collection, with the permission of the authors, families or other copyright holders. And for memoirs penned in a language other than English, and those that need further editing, Hutman said LAMOTH will work with translators and editors to “capture the essential soul and ineffable voice of the author.”

Dana Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor from Lvov, Poland, who lives in Beverly Hills and is on LAMOTH’s Survivor Advisory Board, said she remembers first realizing the scope of personally written Holocaust memoirs in the early 1980s, when she attended meetings of local Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust.

She said one of the women in the group gathered up as many personal writings as she could and put them into a spiral notebook to show to the other group members. 

“Many in that community began writing about their experiences,” Schwartz said. “Amazing memories in poetry and stories. It led many to publish or self publish books.”

Schwartz was struck by how much material from Holocaust survivors remains unknown to the outside world, and she hopes that LAMOTH’s expansion of Remember Us will help bring some of those manuscripts out of storage.

“Many of the books were passed among friends and later discarded by future generations, or given to libraries. I have personally seen many of these discarded books in bins to be rummaged through. Many which had a small printing are disappearing,” Schwartz said. “We, the survivors, have many which will hopefully find a home.”

On May 1, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Yom HaShoah commemoration will be held in Pan Pacific Park at 2 p.m. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will have tables with staff and volunteers who can answer questions about the memoir expansion and be able to accept memoir donations. 

Romania expected to pass Holocaust restitution bill

Legislation that will make it easier for Holocaust survivors to press restitution claims is expected to pass in Romania’s parliament next week.

Lawmakers said Tuesday they expect the bill, which removes barriers to claiming property, to succeed, Reuters reported.

Much of the Jewish property confiscated in Romania during the Holocaust was later taken over by the Communist government. Despite laws passed after the collapse of Communist rule, few people have been able to claim government-owned property.

A draft law published on the parliament website said that in processing applications for the return of property, priority would be given to “requests by people certified as Holocaust survivors by entities designated by the Romanian state or other European Union states.”

The draft passed the upper house of parliament last week and will go to a final vote on May 4 in the lower house, where it is expected to win overwhelming support, legislators told Reuters.

How my grandmother’s chutzpah helped Sugihara rescue thousands of Jews

The story of Chiune Sugihara – the Japanese consul in Kovno, Lithuania, who disobeyed his government’s orders in 1940 and issued transit visas through Japan to thousands of Jews seeking to flee war-torn Europe — wasn’t widely known until 1985, when Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority, honored him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

But I grew up hearing Sugihara’s story because he saved my father’s life. My father, the attorney Nathan Lewin, is a Sugihara survivor.

I also have a family connection to something that few others have known until very recently — the answer to a long unsolved mystery surrounding Sugihara’s rescue of an estimated 6,000 Jews.

Why did the Dutch consul in Kovno, Jan Zwartendijk, begin issuing the “Curaçao visas” – the Dutch endorsements that appeared to permit travel to the island of Curacao, Holland’s territory off South America upon which Sugihara relied when issuing visas? Why did Zwartendijk begin writing in Jewish passports that a visa was not needed to travel to Curaçao?

The answer: my late grandmother. Peppy Sternheim Lewin, the recipient of the first Curacao visa, is the “missing link” in the story.

My grandmother was a Dutch citizen, raised and educated in Amsterdam. After she married my grandfather, Dr. Isaac Lewin, she moved to his home country, Poland. When the Nazi army invaded Poland in September 1939, my grandmother’s parents and her brother were visiting her in Lodz, my father’s birthplace. My great-grandfather promptly flew back to Amsterdam to take care of his business. He later perished at Auschwitz.

My grandmother’s mother, Rachel Sternheim, and her brother, Leo Sternheim, were smuggled with my grandparents and my father, who was then 3 years old, over the border into Lithuania.

In Lithuania, my grandmother sought help from the Dutch diplomats because her mother and brother were Dutch citizens and because she had been a Dutch citizen prior to marrying my grandfather. She initially asked Zwartendijk, who was in Kovno, if he could issue her a visa to the Dutch East Indies, which included Java and Sumatra. He refused. So she wrote to the Dutch ambassador in Riga, L.P.J. de Decker. He also turned down her request for a visa to Java or Sumatra.

Refusing to be discouraged, my grandmother, who was then in Vilna – a short trip from Kovno — wrote to de Decker again and asked him whether there was any way he could possibly help her family because it included Dutch citizens. The ambassador replied that the Dutch West Indies, including Curacao and Surinam, were available destinations where no visa was needed. The governor of Curacao could authorize entry to anyone arriving there.

My grandmother again wrote to de Decker asking whether he could note the Curacao or Surinam exception in her still-valid Polish passport. She asked the envoy to omit the additional note that permission of the governor of Curacao was required. After all, she pointed out, she really did not plan to go to Curacao or Surinam.

“Send me your passport,”de Decker replied. So she did.

 The endorsements of Chiune Sugihara – the Japanese Consul in Kovno, Lithuania – and the Dutch Consul in Kovno, Jan Zwartendijk, appear on  a Ledimas, or travel document, that allowed Isaak Lewin and his family to escape Lithuania in 1940. Washington attorney Nathan Lewin is the three-year-old boy in the arms of his mother, Peppy Sternheim Lewin. (Photo courtesy of Alyza D. Lewin)  The endorsements of Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk, the Japanese and Dutch consuls, respectively, in Kovno, Lithuania, appear on the Leidimas, or travel document, that allowed Isaac Lewin and his family to escape Lithuania in 1940. Nathan Lewin, now a prominent attorney, is the 4-year-old boy in the arms of his mother, Peppy Sternheim Lewin. Photo courtesy of Alyza D. Lewin

On July 11, 1940, de Decker wrote in her passport in French, “The Consulate of the Netherlands, Riga, hereby declares that for the admission into Surinam, Curacao, and other possessions of the Netherlands in the Americas, no entry visa is required.”

My grandmother then showed Zwartendijk what the Dutch ambassador had written in her passport and asked him to copy it onto my grandparents’ Leidimas – the temporary travel document they had been issued by the Latvian government after the existence of Poland was officially nullified by the Nazi invasion. On July 22, 1940, Zwartendijk agreed and wrote de Decker’s notation on my grandparents’ travel papers. That is how my grandparents and my father received the very first Curacao visa.

Relying on Zwartendijk’s notation, Sugihara agreed to give my grandparents (and my grandmother’s mother and brother, who were still Dutch citizens) transit visas through Japan on their purported trip to Curacao. Sugihara issued their visas on July 26, 1940. The Japanese consul kept a list of the names of the individuals to whom he issued visas. My great-grandmother, Rachel Sternheim, is No. 16 on the list; my grandfather, whose Leidimas included my grandmother and my father, is No. 17, and my great-uncle, Levi (Leo) Sternheim, received Sugihara’s 18th visa.

The number of visas Sugihara issued jumped exponentially on July 29, 1940, when hundreds of Jews who had escaped to Vilna learned of my grandmother’s successful effort. They crowded outside the Japanese consulate in Kovno (Kaunas in Lithuanian) hoping Sugihara would issue them a visa. Sugihara worked around the clock for a month, issuing 2,139 visas, including to whole families. These enabled the refugees to take the trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok, and then travel by boat from Russia to Japan, supposedly en route to Curacao.

The story of Sugihara and his rescue is told in a feature film, “Persona Non Grata,” that had its premiere in October and is now making the rounds at Jewish film festivals across the country. It screened recently at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and was shown again in Washington, D.C., last month as part of CineMatsuri, the Japanese Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Although my grandmother’s role is one of the unsolved mysteries in the film, my father was asked to share his mother’s tale after a CineMatsuri screening.

There are perhaps 100,000 descendants of Sugihara survivors alive today. It is humbling to think that it was my grandmother’s initiative and perseverance that opened up this travel route to safety for so many.

Alyza D. Lewin is a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, where she practices law together with her father.

Distribution of federal funds for Holocaust survivors begins

The Jewish federations umbrella organization disbursed $2.8 million in federal grants to assist Holocaust survivors.

With matching private funds, required under terms of the Department of Health and Human Services allocation announced last year, the Jewish Federations of North America said its disbursement announced Wednesday will result in $4.5 million in assistance for Holocaust survivors.

The allocation is a tranche of $12 million to be distributed over five years and is part of an initiative launched in late 2013 by Vice President Joe Biden.

A statement from the Jewish Federations of North America described the services as “person-centered and trauma-informed,” saying it is a “holistic approach to service provision that promotes the dignity, strength, and empowerment of trauma victims by incorporating knowledge about the role of trauma in victims’ lives into agency programs, policies and procedures.”

The grant recipients include Jewish social service agencies in 11 states and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

The statement said that of the more than 100,000 survivors in the United States, one in four is 85 or older and the same number live in poverty.

“Many live alone and are at risk for social isolation, depression, and other physical and mental health conditions stemming from periods of starvation, disease and torture,” according to JFNA.

US Holocaust museum to collect items for time capsule

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is seeking messages and personal artifacts from Holocaust survivors for a time capsule to be opened on the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2043.

The capsule will be on display in the museum’s David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center in Bowie, Maryland, which is scheduled to be opened next year.

“Every day the museum engages in a battle to rescue truth and keep Holocaust memory alive – a battle that will only intensify with each passing year,” Sara Bloomfield, the museum director, said Monday in a statement.

Starting this month in Florida, the capsule will move on to collecting items in California, Illinois and New York before returning to Washington, D.C.

The Shapell Center is expected to provide enough space to allow the museum’s collections to double in size in the next 10 years.

Currently, the museum houses more than 18,000 objects, 76 million pages of documents, 135 million digital images, more than 88,000 photographs and images, and over 14,000 oral testimonies by survivors, witnesses and perpetrators.

“We need to be able to tell this story from every perspective,” Bloomfield said.

How two survivors found romance

In a way, their relationship began like so many others: a workplace romance.

Gabriella Karin, 85, was a docent at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH); Robert Geminder, 80, who goes by Bob, was on the museum’s board of directors.

His wife, Judy, died four years ago. Her husband, Ofer, passed away two years later. Neither one expected to love romantically again, but both seemed to understand that their long and fruitful marriages marked them as romantics.

“Is the pope Catholic?” Bob said. “I didn’t stay married for 52 years and she didn’t stay married for 64 years for no reason.”

Both are Holocaust survivors, deeply committed these days to a post-retirement career transmitting their stories to young people.

“We were trying to make menschin [upright citizens] out of young people,” he told the Jewish Journal. “We spoke in schools all the time — I did, Gabriella did — way before we even knew we existed.”

On Feb. 17, they’ll celebrate their first anniversary as a couple, on a speaking tour in Baltimore.

It started innocently. The two have known about each other for half a decade. They got to know each other a little better on the March of the Living, the annual youth pilgrimage to Poland and Israel, listening to the other’s stories of surviving the war.

(Both of their life stories have been recorded by Jane Ulman in the Journal’s Survivor series and can be read in full at jewishjournal.com/survivor.)

Soon, they began to notice each other at LAMOTH events they both attended.

“He asked me to save a place next to me when we went to some meeting, so I saved a place,” Gabriella explained. “Next time, he saved a place.”

Then came the act of fate.

At the 2014 annual LAMOTH Chanukah party, E. Randol Schoenberg, then the chair of the museum’s board, persuaded Gabriella to buy a raffle ticket. Sure enough, she won: two tickets to an opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.

“I sit down with the ticket, and I ask him, ‘You want to go with me?’ ” she said. “He said, ‘Let me see.’ So he looks in his phone. ‘Yeah, I have time this day. Good!’ So he says, ‘OK, you have tickets, I’m taking you out to dinner.’ ”

The dinner at Bottega Louie on Grand Avenue was the first in a series of dinner dates leading up to Feb. 17, the day of their first kiss.

Since then, they’ve been visiting each other a couple of times a week or on the weekends. Mostly, he drives to her place from his home in Palos Verdes — where he walks his dog past the golf course he says is too expensive to play on but nice to look at.

She lives in the Fairfax neighborhood, close to LAMOTH’s home in Pan Pacific Park on Beverly Boulevard. They have no plans to move in together, instead cherishing the space and time they each need for their busy lives: “It’s great this way,” she said.

Last year, they traveled as a couple to Poland and Israel with the March of the Living youth trip, and they are going back in May for this year’s pilgrimage. They intend to go a week early, so each can tour the areas where the other rode out World War II.

Over a recent Saturday lunch, each waited patiently while the other dutifully shared stories of the Holocaust. Each has done this umpteen times.

Bob clammed up and stared fixedly at his lap while Gabriella told her story. She recounted in soft, accented English how she hid first in a convent and then in a one-bedroom apartment in Slovakia with her mother, father, aunt, two uncles and two family friends — across the street from the regional Gestapo headquarters, miraculously escaping notice.

While the Nazis and their collaborators thinned the ranks of Bratislava’s Jews, Gabriella watched her mother commit acts of daring for the Slovakian underground, accompanying her to warn Jewish families when their names appeared on deportation lists.

Bob cautions against drawing parallels between survivor stories, saying that each is unique.

But he also played eyewitness to his mother’s intuition and courage that mark her as the hero of his story. She sneaked him out of the ghetto on the way to work by hiding him under her skirt, while his brother scampered underneath her girlfriend’s skirt.

“Nobody saw that there were a couple of extra feet under the skirts,” he said.

Another parallel emerges: In both stories, a young couple proves a pivotal agent of survival.

The cramped one-bedroom apartment where Gabriella quietly hid for nine months belonged to her aunt’s boyfriend, Karol Blanar, a young lawyer whom she later successfully nominated to receive Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations award. Blanar brought food for the family and books for Gabriella to read so she wouldn’t fall behind in her education.

For Bob, it was a man who his widowed mother met in the ghetto who proved integral to arranging a place to stay in occupied Warsaw. Emil Brotfeld would later become Bob’s stepfather when he married Bob’s mother at a displaced persons camp in West Germany after the war.

Neither Bob nor Gabriella put much stock in the idea of fate, or in things turning out as they were somehow meant to.

Bob prefers instead to refer to luck: It was luck, he says, that resulted in his being at the back of the crowd at the Jewish cemetery in Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) during the Nazi mass murder of Oct. 12, 1941. If he had been in the front, he might have been among the 14,000 who were assassinated, rather than the 6,000 who lived.

“We were in the first trucks — who knows why?” he said. “It’s not that we were smart to get on the first few trucks — we were pushed on.”

Bob is the talkative one of the two. Gabriella chimes in intermittently to add a detail or to gently correct him, and he treats her graciously.

“I never want to take more time than Gabriella,” he said. “When we speak together, she always gets the extra two minutes.”

“He’s just polite,” she said.

Bob has a curious habit of interspersing his survivor story with jokes. Describing how he scavenged raw eggs to survive while stowed away at a farm near Krakow, he pointed to his full head of hair that, despite his age, has not thinned out.

“Usually at this point I try to find a guy in the audience who’s bald-headed and say ‘See? Raw eggs,’” he said.

He doesn’t joke around to make light of his story, but rather to make it easier for his listeners to stay tuned in.

“It’s such a tense, terrible story for both of us,” he said, before launching back into the recollection. “Not that I want to add humor — I just want to add relief, so people can breathe and listen again.”

If he’s the funny one, she’s the creative one.

Gabriella had a career as a fashion designer before turning to sculpture and illustration, focusing her artwork on themes related to the Holocaust. (Her work can be found at gabriellakarin.com.) She dressed for lunch in a gossamer blue blouse with matching pants and a necklace of her own making.

The two are not affectionate in public, but Bob seems to enjoy doting on her. When somebody set down a bowl of strawberries in front of the two, he turned to Gabriella.

“You don’t want any of these, I know,” he said.

“I’m allergic to strawberries,” she explained.

Later, he tried to pick the marzipan truffle from a box of chocolates to share with Gabriella but picked the caramel one instead.

“That’s not marzipan, Gabriella, I’m sorry,” he said. “We’ll put this one back. I didn’t eat it.”

On the second try, he successfully picked the sweet and split it with her.

Gabriella and Bob don’t exactly buy into the idea of a soul mate. But others who know them aren’t so skeptical.

Samara Hutman, executive director of LAMOTH, waxes poetic when talking about the new couple. She played a key role in their introduction.

“My mother always taught me there’s a lid for every pot,” she told the Journal. “They’re just the perfect lid for each other’s pot — just a perfect fit.”

She admits to getting a little warm and fuzzy about Gabriella and Bob’s relationship. For her, it speaks to the possibility of a second chance at love. But on a personal level, she’s proud of the museum’s role in bringing them together.

“Every time I see them together, my heart smiles like I’m an old lady, like they’re my kids,” she said.

In fact, Hutman was the architect of the raffle that first brought them together for dinner. (“Everything’s better with a raffle,” she said.)

She had known Gabriella for years, because Gabriella got involved with Hutman’s Righteous Conversations project, now under the LAMOTH umbrella, which brings together young people and survivors.

She remembers watching Gabriella care for her late husband when he took ill, after he had for years enthusiastically supported her work as a survivor-storyteller.

“He was as excited about her second career as she was, and when I would go there to visit, he would always give me a flower and a smile,” Hutman recalled. “He was just one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known; their relationship was just so beautiful.”

Hutman hadn’t known Bob all that well until he offered to drive her to the airport on her way to Jerusalem for work.

During that car ride, he unburdened himself to her about how his five-decade marriage had left him a student of loving devotion toward “a really special person,” and to keep her eye out in case she might come across such a person.

“He was kind of putting his soul out to the universe, to me on this drive,” she said.

Hutman is careful not to take too much credit for the relationship. But she said LAMOTH provides a loving community built around Holocaust education that contributed to their meeting. She wouldn’t say if she’s heard of other couples that have met through the museum.

“Are you asking if we’re running a dating service at LAMOTH?” she joked. “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Bob and Gabriella emphasize it was their shared mission of education, of teaching kids about resilience and respect for their fellow humans, that first bound them to each other.

A retired electrical engineer, Bob earned his teaching credential at the age of 70 and now teaches math as a substitute in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He recalled a moment when a student in his math class at a southeast L.A. high school told him he’d heard Bob’s story before in another classroom.

“He’s sitting in class, and he shows me a picture of he and I two years ago,” Bob said. “Do you think he’s going to remember algebra?”

When the lunch wound down, Bob stepped outside and escorted Gabriella to his car, a silver 2016 Corvette Stingray with the dealer plates still on.

“A present to myself for my 80th birthday,” he said.

Bob held the door as Gabriella slid into the passenger seat of the two-door convertible. They waved and then, with a roar of the engine, tore off under a cloudless Los Angeles sky.

Austrian prosecutors: Mauthausen Holocaust survivors may be called criminals

Prosecutors in an Austrian city reaffirmed Nazi logic by failing to indict authors of a magazine article that called Holocaust survivors murderers and criminals, the president of Vienna’s Jewish community said.

Oskar Deutsch made the statement Monday concerning the recent decision by prosecutors in the city of Graz to close a probe into the publication of an article titled “At Mauthausen, Mass Murderers Walked Free” in the July-August edition of Aula, which is affiliated with the far-right FPO party.

The Justice Ministry in Austria is reviewing the case following the submission of queries to the parliament on the prosecution’s decision.

Mauthausen was a Nazi concentration camp built in 1938, where 119,000 people, including 38,120 Jews, were killed outright or worked to death.

“According to Graz prosecutors, Nazi logic must be continued in Austria,” Deutsch wrote following the decision not to prosecute the people responsible for the article. In what Deutsch said was a “heinous reversal of roles,” the article “labeled the victims, not the perpetrators, as mass murderers,” he added.

Mauthausen served as a prison for common criminals throughout 1938.  But in 1939, it expanded to become both a concentration camp and a killing center for political and ideological opponents, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The first transport of Jews arrived in Mauthausen in 1941 from the Netherlands.

Yet, according to the Der Standard daily, the Graz prosecutor’s office dismissed complaints against Aula, affirming that it is “understandable that the release of several thousand people from the Mauthausen concentration camp posed a nuisance to the affected areas of Austria,” and that lawbreakers were “undisputedly” among the inmates.

Christian Pilnacek, a high-ranking Justice Ministry official, told the daily that Aula’s article was “impossible to understand and inhuman” and that the decision not to prosecute is wrong. He did not say what actions, if any, the ministry intends to take on the matter.

Survivors and mementos with meaning

When she arranged to meet and photograph the Holocaust survivors of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Café Europa, Barbara Mack gave them only one instruction: Bring something of personal value.

Most of the subjects complied, arriving with a hodgepodge of items that included a musical instrument, a Kiddush cup, a spoon, a T-shirt and a photograph.

Rina Drexler

Sylvia Bernhut

“If they didn’t have something from the past, they could bring something from the present,” said Mack, whose 80 black-and-white portraits were compiled in two books and for exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH). “Not everybody brought objects, but for all those people who were carrying something, it made this exhibit a little different from most Holocaust survivor exhibits. Each time you look at it, you think, ‘OK, why is this here?’ It adds a little bit of mystery to the pictures.”

The mysteries are unshrouded in captions accompanying the photographs of “Portraits in Black and White: Survivors and What They Carry,” on display at LAMOTH through Feb. 29. The books, also published by LAMOTH, go into even greater detail, with Mack and her co-authors Jane Jelenko (for volume I) and Pamela Wick (volume II) spreading each survivor’s story across a full page of text.

The lined and hugely expressive faces of these 80 men and women seem to tell stories all by themselves, but the objects add an entirely new dimension. During an interview at LAMOTH, Mack pointed to the thin cotton garment draped over the arm of Sophie Zeidman Hamburger, which rested next to the number tattoo she was given as a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She wore the garment when she broke off from a death march and fled into the forest.

Sophie Zeidman Hamburger

“It’s only the top half. The bottom half was too dirty, and she had to cut it off,” Mack said. “She didn’t want to keep it.”

In another photo, twin sisters Rita Sigelstein Kahane and Serena Sigelstein Rubin hold up the broken mezuzot they discovered in an elegant abandoned German house. After the liberation, the sisters entered the house looking for food and were astounded to discover that it had obviously been the home of a Jewish family. They also found a tiny key that now hangs from a chain around Serena’s neck — without knowing what the key unlocked.  

“They started telling me things about their objects,” said Mack, who retired from a career as a clinical psychologist before turning to photography, “And I thought, ‘Oh, this has to be written down.’ ”

That sentiment fit the goals of LAMOTH, which looks to preserve important stories and continue the discussion about events of the past. Even the Café Europa members who were photographed without an object are “carriers” of their own history.

Lazlo Vardi

“Many survivors have written their memoires, but so many have not because it’s a huge undertaking,” said Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director. “That their history can live on in the context of this exhibit is a very powerful thing for this city because it’s a part of the education not only of Jewish students in this city but of all students.”

Susie Forer-Dehrey, executive vice president of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) said Mack has provided an incredible legacy.

“These survivors live in our community, and they deserve to have their stories retold. The survivors will not always be here, but the idea is that when you hear the story you become a witness. Through the exhibit and the books, the stories will live on and we can share them with generations to come.”

Seven years ago, Forer-Dehrey approached Mack about doing some volunteer work with the participants of Café Europa, a social club that brings Holocaust survivors together to build relationships and share activities. Forer-Dehrey came up with the idea of having Mack take portrait photos of the Café Europa participants.

Albert Rosa

Mack quickly agreed. In addition to the artistic challenge, she said the subject struck a chord personally, as well. Mack’s Hebrew name is Toba in honor of her paternal great-grandmother Toba Machlovitz, who was fatally shot, along with many Jews in Mielec, Poland, during the Holocaust.

“I was so close to my grandfather, and he always used to tell me about his mother and what happened to her,” Mack said. “So every time I was doing this, I thought of her and I thought of my grandfather and I was very inspired by that.”

Mack began photographing the Café Europa members who met in Los Angeles at the Westside Jewish Community Center. In 2010, after seeing the photographs in JFSLA’s annual report, LAMOTH President E. Randol Schoenberg requested some of the photographs for the museum’s permanent collection in its new location in Pan Pacific Park. The museum published the first volume of “Portraits in Black and White” in book form and displayed the portraits in a 2011 exhibition.

Ultimately, members of the San Fernando Valley Café Europa requested their own photographs, and Mack took up her Hasselblad camera and black-and-white film once again. The current exhibition includes portraits from both city and Valley Café Europa sessions, as well as several that Mack placed on silkscreen. In the seven years since she started this project, several of the subjects have died.

For the second round of photographs, Mack asked the survivors whether their experiences during the Holocaust changed their views of God and Judaism. A selection of their responses can be found at the end of volume II. They range from “I cannot believe in a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen” to “God was with me in Auschwitz and all over.”

“Many of these survivors never had their stories told and never wanted to. Part of the way they made a new life for them was to put it behind them,” Mack said. “It was very courageous of them to tell their stories. There were a lot of tears, but they did it.”

BBYO teens on front lines of the last survivor generation

Michele Rodri was 7 years old when a pair of Nazi storm troopers plucked her out of a game of hopscotch outside her Paris home. 

Telling her story to a group of Southern California teens at Shabbat dinner on the evening of Nov. 6, Rodri lifted her plastic plate to demonstrate the ease with which they hoisted her into the back of a truck.

“I can only tell you that I grew up very quickly at that point,” she said.

Rodri’s childhood could hardly be more different from that of the young adults sitting around her in the mess hall of Camp Alonim kicking off a retreat for the Jewish youth organization BBYO.

The 160-some teens, who spent the weekend on the Simi Valley campus, are boisterously Jewish. After dinner, they loudly recited prayers peppered with joke lyrics picked up over years of practice. The 16 Holocaust survivors who joined them that night were infants when the war broke out and had had no such luxury.

These survivors were mostly old hands on the Los Angeles lecture circuit, although Samara Hutman, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), noted a few new faces.

The events, a partnership between BBYO and LAMOTH, dropped the classroom setting in favor of more informal interaction. Survivors joined the high-schoolers for a challah bake, followed by dinner and a group discussion. Millennials of varying denominations hung out with Jews several generations apart from them.

Rodri’s dark recounting — “The kids that were sick, they wouldn’t bother with them, they would just shoot them” — brought from her audience mostly shocked silence and exclamations of “Oh my God!” but the silences were hardly awkward ones.

After her story and a dinner of boiled carrots and chicken drenched in barbecue sauce — camp food — a slight girl in a hoodie came over from another table just to give Rodri a hug. They had met earlier while braiding challah.

“See how they react?” Rodri said after her new friend walked away. 

The event was a ritual closing of the circle between “the future of the Jewish people and the elders of the Jewish story,” Hutman said.

Dinner was followed by an induction service. Formalities were recited, during which teen leaders invoked the “power vested in us” to endow the survivors with honorary membership “to the BBYO family.”

Teens and nonagenarians threw their arms over each other’s shoulders for renditions of “Hinei Mah Tov” and “Shehecheyanu.”

Survivor Betty Cohen holds hands with a high-schooler during an after-dinner panel.

The evening was an exercise in Holocaust memory that sought to impress something more powerful, though more fleeting, than stories recorded in books and videos. Some of the survivors have recorded their stories with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation; they play continuously on a wall of monitors at LAMOTH’s Pan Pacific Park campus.

But the teens came for something more than just a historical account: a face-to-face connection with a rapidly receding past.

One teen, Gillian Shapiro, compared the evening’s events with her visit this past summer to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

“Even that didn’t relate with seeing you guys here tonight,” she told a panel of survivors that convened after dinner.

Tenth-grader Liam Cohen had also traveled to Amsterdam, recalling that nobody was able to point him to the Holocaust museum, despite being directly in front of it.

“I think people should be taught and should know what that building is,” he told the audience, speaking into a microphone. 

The event proceeded with a frank acknowledgement that these were among the last teens who might have the opportunity to interact with living Holocaust survivors.

“We’re going to leave you in not too long — not too short, I hope,” one survivor, Dana Schwartz, told the audience. “Where are you going?” another interrupted before allowing her to finish.

“I’m having a heck of a time here,” Schwartz said.

Survivor Dana Schwartz (center) prepares challah with BBYO teens. 

The teens recognize the responsibility assigned to them.

“Being a part of the last generation that will ever hear Holocaust survivors speak, we have to be active in that,” said Justin Willamson, one of the two Southern California presidents of BBYO.

During a group photo-op, a volunteer photographer brandished her iPhone and called out, “This one’s for Snapchat!” 

The irony was palpable, at least for the teens who know how the app works. Picture messages sent out over the social media platform disappear almost as quickly as they are viewed — savored in the moment, and then gone.

But despite the shrieks and jeers of teenagers in their element, the ethos of the night was not lost on the seniors.

“We are thrilled to see your joy, your exuberance and your Jewishness,” Schwartz said. “We all thought we were the only ones to survive — and here you are.”

 “The Jewish people have to stay together, because we lost 6 million people,” Rodri told her half-dozen dinner companions, emphasizing the importance of interacting with and ultimately marrying other Jews. 

 “I’m not saying you have to make 6 million more Jews,” she said, letting the sentence trail off. 

As the night came to an end, Rodri gravitated back to Hutman, the museum director, with whom she’d gotten a ride earlier from Santa Monica through legendary Friday traffic on the 405 Freeway.

 “You see? You walk in, you don’t know anybody,” she told Hutman. “You walk out, you have a ton of friends.”

Holocaust trauma, other gene changes during life, may be inherited

Every generation of Jews, it is thought, must learn the trauma of the Holocaust anew from parents or community.

But a new study has provided the strongest proof yet that some of the trauma is passed along genetically, and that other genetic changes people accrue during life also get transmitted to their children.

The study, by researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, looked at the genes of 32 Jewish men and women who survived a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or hid during World War II, and the genes their children.

“The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” Dr. Rachel Yehuda, the head of the team of researchers, told the Guardian.

Yehuda, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, and her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma across generations through “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that genetic changes caused by the environment over a lifetime can be transmitted to offspring.

Genes contained in DNA are thought to be the only way to pass biological information from parent to child. But environmental influences – like smoking, diet and stress – modify genes all the time via chemical tags that attach themselves to DNA, switching genes on and off.

Recent studies suggest that some of the epigenetic tags might somehow be passed from parents to their children.

In their study, published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Yehuda and her team focused on one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones and known to be affected by trauma.

They found tags on the same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their children. The correlation did not show up between the control group and their children.

Further genetic analysis ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experiences themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” Yehuda told the Guardian.

Other studies have less robustly linked the genetics of parents and their children.

How exactly parents could be passing the epigenetic tags to their children remains a mystery. Tags on DNA were thought to be wiped clean soon after conception. But recent research has shown that some slip through to leave their mark on the next generation.

The end of life is different for Holocaust survivors

Jewish hospice chaplains confront the emotional and medical complexities of death and dying every day, but Holocaust survivors present special challenges.

Rabbi E.B. “Bunny” Freedman, director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, said that chaplains are increasingly being called on to provide spiritual support to survivors and their families.

“There are a lot of complex issues,” said Freedman, who has worked in end of life chaplaincy for 23 years. “One of them is making the decision of unhooking hydration – much more complex for a Holocaust family. The idea of not providing nutrition is crossing a sacred or not understood emotional line.”

Survivor guilt and mixed feelings at the prospect that they may “meet their relatives on the other side” commonly surface, he said.

Rabbi Charles Rudansky, director of Jewish clinical services at Metropolitan Jewish Health System’s hospice in New York, reported similar experiences with Holocaust survivors he had counseled.

“Last time they saw their loved ones was hellish, hellish, hellish, and now they’re crossing that bridge,” said Rudansky.

Some Holocaust survivors are apprehensive at that prospect, he said, while others are “uplifted.” A usually talkative person may fall silent, while a quiet person may suddenly have a lot to say.

“I’ve been called in by Holocaust survivors who only want to speak with me so some human ears will have heard their plight,” said Freedman.

Jan Kellough, a counselor with Sivitz Jewish Hospice and Palliative Care in Pittsburgh, said she encourages, but never pushes, survivors to share their stories. While it can be therapeutic for some survivors to talk about the Holocaust, she said, it is problematic for others.

For some survivors, “there’s an attitude of not wanting to give up, there’s a strong will to fight and survive,” said Kellough.

Children and grandchildren of survivors can also struggle to cope with their loved ones’ terminal illness, said Rudansky.

He said such people tell the hospice staff, “’My grandfather, my father survived Auschwitz. You can’t tell me they can’t survive this!’ They have great difficulty in wrapping their heads around this is different — this is nature.”

That difficulty can be compounded by the fact that children of survivors may not have had much contact with death in their lives, said Rabbi David Rose, a hospice chaplain with the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville, Maryland.

Because so many of their family members were wiped out in the Holocaust, children of survivors may be less likely to have experienced the death of a grandparent or aunt or uncle.

“That’s one of the benefits of hospice. We work with them and their families to help them accept their diagnosis,” said Kellough.

Hospice offers families pre-bereavement counseling, 13-months of aftercare and access to preferred clergy.

Special sensitivity is paid to spouses who are also survivors.

“Survivor couples, particularly if they met before the war or just after the war are generally exceptionally protective of each other,” said Rose. “A few different couples come to mind – every time I visited, the partner was sitting right next to their spouse, holding hands the whole visit.”

Freedman underscored that chaplains are trained not to impose their religious ideas on families, but rather to listen to the patient and family’s wishes.

“I tell the people I train that if you’re doing more [than] 30 percent [of the] talking in the early stages of the relationship, then you’re doing it wrong,” said Freedman.

“Seventy percent of communication is coming from your ears, your eyes, your smile — not your talking. Rabbis tend to be loquacious, we’re talkative,” he said. “But when I’m with a family, I am an open book for them to write on.”

Though the work is emotionally demanding, Freedman said, “Helping people through natural death and dying is one of the most rewarding things people can do.”

Letters to the editor: BDS, Independence for special needs adults, Holocaust survivors and more

Emotion Not Enough in Age of Information

Any anti-BDS movement that does not address the occupation and settlement expansion in some way is doomed to failure (“Hillary Clinton Has the Answer to BDS,” July 10). We cannot assume students are stupid or anti-Semitic when they look for a way to put weight behind their criticism of Israel.

Give them a reason to accept Israeli policies in the West Bank or say goodbye to the next generation.

If you want to convince American college students that the occupation is just, both in its geographical scope and its policies, venting anger at Palestinians will not be enough. Americans are already ashamed of how we treated Native Americans and African-Americans. What fuels the BDS movement is that Israelis are not ashamed of how they treat Palestinians.

Marshall Fuss via jewishjournal.com

Our Pain Is Not God’s Plan

No, Rabbi Naomi Levy is not the only one who had a problem with the eulogy (“Obama’s Eulogy: Stirring Words, Disturbing Theology,” July 10). Thank you for her comforting words that elucidate a theology that makes sense to all of us who believe in a caring and compassionate God, one who expects us to be partners in preventing evil and in perfecting the world.  

Joshua Karlin via email

For completeness, Levy could have noted that not only Jewish religious people but also agnostics, atheists and other religious people can easily disagree with President Barack Obama’s expressed theology, which is based on what he believed were God’s intentions.

Marc Jacobson via email

Invest in Independence

I am an autistic man who disagrees with Michelle Wolf about extra funding for the regional center (“Will the Special Session Help People With Special Needs?” July 10). In her article, Wolf mentions how difficult it is for parents to even get a caseworker to call them back. I have found it virtually impossible. I have had three caseworkers who refused to provide help and/or treat me with dignity. They do not advocate or protect my rights. Instead, they make money for themselves. Seventy-five percent of my vendor providers did not provide the help that I needed because they knew they would still get paid for doing nothing.

Several months ago, Wolf wrote an article about how the Department of Developmental Services is beginning a self-determination program for clients of the regional center. I tried to get into the test program but failed. This program will allow the client to bypass all the red tape that goes on with caseworkers. This is what we need. It will save taxpayers money, and clients will get the services they need. Once the regional centers stop wasting money, our Legislature could provide extra money.

By the way, my current caseworker believes I am mentally retarded!

Mark Girard via email

Never Again, Never Forget

Thank you so much for writing and publishing the two recent World War II stories (“Survivor: Sidonia Lax,” “The Goodness Effect,” July 10). I burst into tears reading about the inhuman treatment of Sidonia Lax and her loved ones in Poland, and for how their happy lives became a living hell:  forced out of their homes, forced to hide, deportations, starvation, their cramped living conditions, parents and friends murdered, no clothes, freezing in winter and transferred to many prison camps. 

And for Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved almost 700 children in Czechoslovakia, evacuating them by train, their brutal living conditions in ghettos, parents desperate to get their children out, and parents left behind and murdered.

These stories (as do the other survivor stories) so moved me. We should never forget the horrific sufferings of those persecuted by Nazis.

May all their stories continue to be told. In this way, we honor them and keep their memories alive. 

Sharon Swan, Redondo Beach

Holland reverses decision to cut survivor’s pension over West Bank residence

Following a protest by a Holocaust survivors’ group in Israel, the Dutch government reversed its decision to cut pension payments to a 90-year-old woman because she moved to a West Bank settlement.

The reversal was announced Monday in a letter sent by Caspar Veldkamp, the Netherlands’ ambassador to the Israel, responding to a letter sent earlier in the day by Colette Avital, head of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Avital protested the Dutch government stripping some entitlements from an unnamed Holocaust survivor, who had received a letter from Dutch officials explaining that the measure was taken because she resides beyond the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

“My government considers her receiving this letter a very unfortunate event, which should have been avoided,” Veldkamp wrote in the letter, which was obtained by JTA. “Since the person involved could not have been aware of the consequences of moving to occupied territories for her entitlement, her pension will not be reduced.”

Dutch citizens residing in Israel are entitled to full old-age pensions from the Netherlands under the countries’ social security agreement. However, the Dutch government does not recognize the agreement as applying to territory beyond the Green Line. The woman in question received a monthly pension payment of approximately $1,000 after moving to Israel in recent months, but the amount was to be cut by 35 percent when the Dutch government found that she was living in the West Bank.

“We find it unacceptable to target a population of elderly people who have suffered enough in your country and beyond its borders in the dark days of World War II,” Avital wrote to Veldkamp.

In addition to the basic pension payments known in Dutch as AOW, the Dutch government also pays special income supplements to Holocaust survivors. The woman’s supplements were not affected by her residence in the West Bank, though those may have been increased to make up for the intended cut in her AOW payments, according to Henoch Wajsberg, former chair of Irgun Olei Holland, the group representing Dutch immigrants living in Israel.

“We have been fighting for years to extend the pension rights to people residing beyond the Green Line because this is essentially a non-political issue that has been politicized,” he said.

A memorable march

Some 70 years ago, my now-89-year-old grandfather, Andrew Gardner, marched.  He marched, by force, in death marches, alongside so many who eventually perished at the hands of the Nazis.  This week, my grandfather marched through the vast Walter E. Washington Convention Center during the AIPAC Policy Conference.  He proudly marched with me, one of his ten grandchildren, by his side, along with 16,000 other pro-Israel activists. 

My grandfather, originally from in Gyongyos, Hungary (50 miles east of Budapest), was first sent to a forced labor camp in 1939 at the age of 15.  In 1943, he was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp.  In 1945, he was evacuated from the camp via a 10-day death march to Gunskirchen where he was ultimately liberated in May of that year.  During the war, he lost his parents, grandparents, three of his four brothers, and counting no further than first cousins another 63 family members.  He immigrated to the United States, arriving in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1949.  He later settled in Los Angeles, California in 1951, where he currently resides with his wife, Yvette Gardner.  Together, they have three children, 10 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.

The details and story of my grandfather’s march and journey are well known to me and are my personal source of inspiration for my commitment to Israel, AIPAC, and pro-Israel activism.  Amazingly, his current march, our journey to Washington D.C., in and of itself was an inspiration to so many others.  Merely seeing him, a Holocaust survivor, attending and walking about the conference touched so many people, in such a deep way, that they felt compelled to share their thoughts with us, and no doubt impacted so many more beyond those that made themselves known to us. 

During the long marches from general plenaries, to breakout sessions, to receptions with members of the United States Congress, we were stopped countless times, easily close to 100 occasions.  Individuals approached us time and time again, without any knowledge of his past journey, and would greet my grandfather and say “Thank you so much for being here.  It means so much to us.”  And, “You are an inspiration to all of us.”  Numerous Congressmen and Senators literally embraced him and said, “It is an honor to meet you.”

Gardner with Senator John McCain (AZ)

As we marched together, arm-in-arm, so I could help him keep his balance, as he did some 70 years ago with his uncles supporting each other to simply stay erect and alive, others would approach us and comment, “It is so inspiring to see you and your grandfather here together.”  Others would remark, “It is so special that the two of you can share this experience.”

Gardner with Representative Pete Aguilar (CA-31)

Rising early in the morning, not for a lineup in a forced labor camp, but to line up to clear security for the Prime Minister of Israel, some directed their comments to me, “The way you care for your grandfather is so touching,” and “It is beautiful to see the way your treat your grandfather.”  What they failed to understand, and what I tried to explain, was that it is a privilege and honor for me to accompany him.

Gardner with Representative Steve Israel (NY-3)

On many other occasions, as we marched back to the hotel to rest in the afternoon and late evening, a luxury not afforded to him 70 years ago, I noticed those who observed us and commented privately to each other.

My grandfather’s journey from marching in morning lineups in a concentration camp and a death-march, to today, marching to hear a speech from the Prime Minister of the State of Israel and climbing the steps of the United States Capitol to meet with members of Congress and lobby on behalf of the US-Israel relationship is truly remarkable.  It inspires me, and rightfully inspires so many others. 

I pray that I will continue to have the privilege to march alongside my grandfather as he continues inspiring others to support and advocate for the State of Israel, that he loves so dearly, for many more years to come.


Andrew Gardner currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Yvette Gardner.  The Gardners are longstanding and passionate AIPAC members and have been instrumental supporters of numerous local Jewish institutions and Israel related organizations including JNF, Israel Bonds and Shelters for Israel. 

Michael Buchman is a pro-Israel activist and a member of AIPAC’s Los Angeles Young Leadership Council.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Funding for survivor services sees a big jump in 2015

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany — also known as the Claims Conference — is providing a $10.1 million increase in funding this year to California-based Holocaust survivors, according to a Claims Conference’s December press release. The money will fund home care and other services, the release said. 

Various local social services agencies, including Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) and Bet Tzedek, a Los Angeles-based pro bono legal aid agency, will distribute the funds on behalf of the Claims Conference. Organizations in the East Bay, Long Beach, Orange County and elsewhere are receiving funds as well. 

Cally Clein, coordinator of Holocaust Survivor Services at Jewish Federation and Family Services Orange County, welcomed the announcement. She said home care is an important service for a survivor population, and not just because of their ages. Many survivors have behavior and psychological issues that make them reluctant to live in nursing homes, or they lack the support systems of family members from whom they are estranged, and therefore rely on services, she said. 

“It’s almost part of like [the German government] making good … trying to help them in a time now when cost of care is so very high that this affords them … some help to manage their daily needs,” Clein said. 

Experts estimate that the average age of a survivor in the United States is 82. According to remarks made last year by then-CEO of Bet Tzedek Sandor Samuels before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, about 100,000 survivors live in the United States, an estimated one-fourth of whom live at or below the poverty line.

The additional funds are a result of negotiations between the German government and the Claims Conference, which negotiates with the German government on behalf of Holocaust victims, provides grants to organizations that assist survivors, runs its own compensation programs and more, according to Julius Berman, Claims Conference board chairman. Founded in 1951, the Claims Conference provided $306 million in grants last year to agencies in 47 countries, according to its website. 

The new earmarked money from the Claims Conference will fund home-bathing, home-delivered meals, housekeeping, transportation and even dental care, home modifications and other medical equipment. Securing funds for home care from the German government and making those monies available to social service groups, Berman said, is an increasingly important part of what the Claims Conference does.

“[It] is becoming a major charge of the Claims Conference to come to the Germans and explain [the importance of home care for survivors] to them,” Berman said. 

JFS is a longtime grant recipient of the Claims Conference. This year, the organization is receiving $2 million more than it received last year, according to Vivian Sauer, JFS director of program development. She said the need for home care funds for survivors continues to increase.

“For the last several years, we have been experiencing a significant, almost exponential increase in demand for home care services by survivors who are getting older, more frail and have multiple health problems and need a lot more help in the house,” she said. “We, as well as other agencies nationally, have been seeing this trend, and the Claims Conference understands that and have been able to lobby the German government for a significant increase in home care funds.

“Hopefully we will be able to provide this year the necessary home care that survivors are needing,” she said. 

Lisa Hoffman, program director of Holocaust Services at Bet Tzedek, said the organization’s funding for 2015 has not been set yet, but that it received $30,000 from the Claims Conference last year and will put the funds toward legal assistance for survivors applying for reparations from the German government, and other forms of financial assistance. Bet Tzedek attorneys also are charged with assisting survivors in applying for Los Angeles County-sponsored home care services.  

In an email to the Journal, Nicholas Levenhagen, a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek, estimated that he has “worked on approximately 100 cases helping survivors to access needed health services.”

In Orange County, Clein expects her organization, which assists approximately 300 survivors, to receive an estimated $1 million for them and to assist an additional 12 to15 survivors who have been on the waiting list for services, she said. She stressed the importance of the nature of the assistance. 

“This is not a reparation payment,” Clein said. “This is financial assistance to Holocaust survivors who are in need of some care.”

Lauder, Spielberg warn of rising anti-Semitism

European leaders must do more to combat rising anti-Semitism on their home turf, Jewish leaders urged on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Governments must adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward preachers of hate and importers of jihad, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder told reporters.

Filmmaker Stephen Spielberg told some 100 Holocaust survivors and their companions in Krakow that “we are once again facing the perennial demons of intolerance.”

Lauder said he had been hearing from worried Jews across Europe, especially following the rash of terrorist attacks on Jewish targets in Belgium and this month in France.

“The Jewish population is frightened,” he said. Religious Jews “are afraid of getting attacked in the street” for wearing a yarmulke. “Jews want to leave Europe because they feel their governments are not protecting them.”

Lauder called for the deportation of leaders who promulgate hate speech and the closing of schools that teach hateful messages. European citizens who go abroad to receive Islamist military training, he said, “are not learning how to make couscous. They should lose their passports.”

Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, told JTA that unlike in Western Europe, jihadists have not posed a problem in Poland. He also said that classic Catholic anti-Semitism has greatly decreased thanks to the efforts of the late Pope John Paul II.

But Schudrich said that in addition to the terrorist threat, there is an increased willingness in Western Europe to express traditional anti-Semitism.

“It’s as if at some level the expiration date of the Holocaust is up,” he said.

Survivors gather for historic anniversary at Auschwitz

Holocaust survivors gathered in Krakow on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz amid unease regarding the safety of Jews in Europe.

Some 100 survivors from 19 countries — each with a child, grandchild or companion — are expected to attend official ceremonies on Tuesday at the site of the former concentration camp in Oswiecim. The journeys of the guests — most of them in their 80s and 90s – were sponsored by the World Jewish Congress and the USC Shoah Foundation.

Ronald Lauder, president of the WJC, is to address the ceremony, which was organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the International Auschwitz Council. Among the thousands of expected guests are state leaders as well as film director Steven Spielberg, founding chair of the Shoah Foundation, Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban and others.

In Germany, where International Holocaust Remembrance Day events and ceremonies were to be held across the country, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Monday that Jews would always remember the Holocaust, but that non-Jews in Germany had a duty to remember, teach and learn about it.

“At the same time, unfortunately, the threat to Jews around the world has increased,” Schuster added, alluding to the recent terrorist attack in the Paris kosher supermarket in which four hostages were killed. “Attacks by extremist Muslims have become an increased danger to the Jewish community. We must not turn a blind eye.”

U.S., France secure $60 million for survivors of rail deportations

The United States and France have tentatively arrived at a $60 million lump sum agreement to settle claims by survivors deported to Nazi camps via the French rail system.

The agreement, announced Friday in a conference call with reporters by Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department’s envoy on Holocaust compensation issues, will be signed Monday, but still needs to be ratified by the French legislature.

The SNCF, which is owned by the French government, transported Jews to the death camps during the Holocaust.

The agreement redresses longstanding claims by survivors who were otherwise unable to obtain reparations limited to French nationals through the French pension system.

The agreement will guarantee France “and its instrumentalities” like SNCF “legal peace,” or freedom from legal actions. SNCF has until now used diplomatic immunities to resist lawsuits brought by American survivors.

The French embassy in Washington said in an email to JTA that the agreement reflected the closeness of U.S.-French ties and pledged that those seeking compensation would be unburdened by bureaucracy.

“Both sides will do everything possible to ensure that compensation is paid as quickly as possible and with as few formalities as possible,” a spokesman said.

The fund, with moneys from France but administered by the U.S. government, will be available to non-French nationals who are citizens of the United States and any other country that does not have a bilateral reparations agreement with France. (Belgium, Poland, Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are subject to such agreements.)

Funds will also be available to their surviving spouses, and – in what Eizenstat said was unprecedented in the history of reparations – to the estates of survivors.

A fact sheet estimated that “several thousand” claims will be eligible. It said that survivors will likely be entitled to over $100,000 each, their widowed spouses to amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars and estates would be assessed according to how long the survivor lived after the war; because it is a pension plan, the longer one survived, the more the estate would receive.

Under the agreement, SNCF, separately, will re-issue a statement of “sorrow and regret” for its role in the deportations, and will contribute $4 million to Holocaust education and commemoration in the United States and in France and Israel, Eizenstat said.

Additionally, the U.S. government will issue guidelines to people who were orphaned by the deportations to apply for separate compensation available to them under French laws since 2000.

Lawyers for survivors who have attempted to bring SNCF to court would not comment until after a Friday afternoon briefing with Eizenstat.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) had earlier this year introduced legislation that would have granted courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits against SNCF. Maloney in a statement welcomed Eizenstat’s deal, although she did not say whether she would withdraw the legislation.

“This is a breakthrough in a decades-long struggle for justice waged by Holocaust survivors who were brought to death camps on SNCF trains hired by the Nazis,” she said. “This settlement will deliver fair compensation to these victims and to the loved ones of those who did not live to see this deal finalized.” Ros-Lehtinen did not return a request for comment.

It is not clear yet how the deal would affect bills under consideration in a number of state legislatures that would ban any dealings with SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until it agreed to address lawsuits.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and himself a Holocaust survivor, welcomed the agreement.

“There is no amount of money that could ever make up for the horrific injustice done to these victims and their families,” he said in a statement. “But agreements like this provide some modest redress, an important recognition of their pain, and acknowledge the responsibility of governments and institutions to leave no stone unturned in seeking every possible measure of justice for Holocaust victims.”