Warsaw Jews want to trade historic building for new offices

The Jewish community of Warsaw is advancing plans to demolish one of its historic ghetto-era buildings in favor of new offices.

Under the plan, the White House on Twarda Street would be replaced with a 20-story building where the community, which has tripled in size since the fall of communism, could accommodate more members during celebrations and on weekends, according to the Associated Press.

But the Association of Protectors of Warsaw's Cultural Heritage has filed a petition to the Cultural Ministry asking that the building — one of the few that survived the German onslaught on the old Warsaw Ghetto — be declared a historical site. The ministry is expected to decide on the issue in the coming months.

“An opinion that I can't agree with is that the building is more important than the future of the community,” Andrzej Zozula, vice president of the Jewish community, told AP.

Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich reportedly is backing the plan to replace the building with a modern structure.

The white building reportedly is in a state of decay. Though it has a cellar that dates back more than two centuries, most of the building is about 130 years old and has undergone major transformations.

Ghetto survivors eligible for payment

For the first time, some survivors of Nazi-era ghettos are eligible for a one-time payment from the so-called Ghetto Fund in addition to the pensions they receive from the German government.

Following negotiations with Germany, the Claims Conference announced that those who meet certain criteria will receive a one-time payment of 2,000 euros, or about $2,600. Germany also has canceled the Dec. 31 deadline for submitting applications for Ghetto Fund payments. In addition, the government is examining 56,000 rejected claims for so-called ghetto pensions, German Social Security payments for work in ghettos.

The government decided to approve both Social Security payments and the one-time reparations payment for ghetto survivors who worked as “non-forced” laborers, in effect broadening the eligibility for payments.

Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference, said in a news release that the organization wanted to ensure that every eligible survivor who was in a ghetto could apply for both payments.

“The decision represents recognition of the suffering and hardship experienced by Jews working in Nazi-era ghettos under unimaginable conditions,” he said.

Since 2002, survivors who worked in Nazi ghettos during the war have been eligible for the ghetto pension even if they received payment for their work in the ghetto. The Claims Conference, which is not involved in the implementation of the payments, nevertheless does provides information on its Web site about eligibility and the application process.

In related news, a judge in the city of Essen who has spent years interviewing rejected claimants in Israel in an effort to help in their appeal has formally claimed he is being bullied as part of efforts to block payment of ghetto pensions.

According to the Bild online newspaper, Social Court Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse, who reportedly has fought for ghetto pensions for thousands of survivors, says the forms that claimants must fill out are too complicated for many of them; he said thousands of applicants were rejected for “lack of cooperation” for failing to send back the forms.

Renesse also alleged that the court administration regularly destroys documents that could help applicants. Bild confirmed that the president of the Social Court of North-Rhine Westphalia is being investigated for “suppression of documents.”

“Anne Frank” for Teens

Contemporary Holocaust literature for young adults seems to favor a theme: transport unaware teenagers to German-occupied Europe and, together with the characters, the readers will emerge as more sensitive, aware young adults.

The book, and recent Showtime drama, The Devil’s Arithmetic, takes Hannah, a Jewish teenager apathetic to Judaism, on a journey through a ghetto and concentration camp. “Anne Frank and Me,” a contemporary one-act play performed this past week by participants of the Teenage Drama Workshop at Cal State Northridge (CSUN), follows the protagonist, Nicole, through a similar experience.

Unlike Hannah, however, Nicole is not a spoiled Jewish teen. Her non-Jewish parents are Holocaust deniers, and they attempt to teach their daughter that the Holocaust was a lie. Before she can fully accept their theory, Nicole is knocked unconscious in a car accident and wakes up as a Jew in war-torn Europe. By trying to make sense of her surroundings, and eventually meeting Anne Frank, Nicole comes to recognize the horrific truths of the Holocaust and gains an appreciation of the Jewish people.

Written by Cherie Bennett for teen-age actors of all faiths, “Anne Frank and Me” is an effective educational tool against Holocaust denial because it targets two audiences: young viewers and actors themselves.

“I thought is was a terrific play, first and foremost, and an important play for our community, given the strong Jewish presence here, and the fact that we are experiencing more hate crimes,” said Doug Kaback, Executive Director of the full-time Teenage Drama Workshop, now in its 42nd year. “Anne Frank and Me” was one of the three productions put on by the young workshop crews.

In addition to rehearsing — a lesson in both drama and Jewish history in itself — the acting crew visited the Museum of Tolerance. For many of them, the experience boosted awareness and knowledge they had already begun to cultivate.

Fifteen year-old Stephanie Blaze, the Christian-Catholic who played the lead, is nothing like pre-transformation Nicole. She keeps clear of racist company. “I have no friends like that,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d want to have any friends like that.”

Thirteen year-old Rachel Garcia, a Mexican American, was enamored with Anne Frank even before she heard of the play. Since playing the part of her newfound role model, she recommends “The Diary of Anne Frank” to her friends.

“To me she was a hero,” she enthused.

Over 50 percent of the young actors happen to be Jews of various backgrounds. For them, the play reinforced their Jewish identity and taught them more facts about the war.

“It made me a little more proud of my Jewish heritage,” said 14 year-old Jesse Reiss, who admits to being “not very Jewish.”

The play moves adults as well. After a successful performance, Director Irene Silbert could be found with tears in her eyes. A child of a survivor, directing and watching the play has aroused heartfelt emotions, a sign that the actors played and understood their roles with maturity and grace.

“I feel we have an obligation to make sure the truth is always known,” she said. “Especially when there are so many deniers out there.”

For more information on the Teenage Drama Workshop at CSUN call (818) 677-3086.