Ruth Moll. Photos courtesy of Cedars-Sinai

Kindertransport passenger shares a different kind of survivor story


It was not until a movie about the Kindertransport came out in 2000 that Ruth Moll began to consider herself a Holocaust survivor.

Moll was 10 years old when she and her two sisters boarded a train to escape Nazi Germany shortly after Kristallnacht in November 1938. They were among the 10,000 children saved in the Kindertransport, a series of rescues organized by Great Britain before World War II began.

So, unlike many of the stories recounted around Yom HaShoah, Moll’s evasion of Nazi persecution does not involve ghettos or concentration camps. But that does not make her experience less harrowing or, as she insists, less critical to relate.

“It’s very important for people to know,” Moll told the Journal after a memorial candlelighting at a Cedars-Sinai Yom HaShoah ceremony on April 21.

As a contrast, she cited the example of the MS St. Louis, an ocean liner that was filled with hundreds of European Jewish refugees but turned back from the United States in 1939.

“To think a country like America could have done that — it’s not very nice,” Moll said. “And that’s why I stress that if it wasn’t for England, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

Now 89, Moll volunteers in various nonclinical roles at Cedars-Sinai, where she was one of several survivors who participated in the memorial candlelighting. The event included an address from Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, before a crowd of 200 or so members of the extended hospital community.

Born Ruth Schmidt in Stuttgart, Germany, Moll enjoyed a traditional Jewish childhood before the horrors of Kristallnacht ravaged her community. She remembers hearing the sound of shattering glass from inside her home. Weeks later, the Gestapo came looking for her father, a successful businessman. Luckily, he wasn’t home.

Sensing the immediacy of the Nazi threat, the Schmidt parents sought to protect their three daughters, ages 12, 10 and 9 at the time. With the help of a wealthy aunt, they secured travel documents and tickets for their children on a train bound for the Netherlands coast. A ferry would take them the rest of the way to England.

The children were permitted one small overnight suitcase each; no sentimental items could be accommodated. But Moll managed to smuggle her wooden recorder, on which she had been playing children’s songs since kindergarten, in her bag. She has kept the instrument to this day.

“It meant a lot to me because I was the only one of the three of us [who played] an instrument,” she told the Journal. She joked that she would probably need some breathing practice before she could play the wind instrument again. “I’m an old woman,” she laughed.

She left home not knowing if she ever would see her parents again, and upon arriving in England, on Feb. 3, 1939, the Schmidt girls were met by a relative, who enrolled them in a Christian boarding school. Moll’s parents later gained passage to England, mere weeks before the war started, and while they were able to visit their daughters at the boarding school, the family was not fully reunited until after the war.

Unfortunately, many of the other children saved by the Kindertransport never saw their families again. That includes her late husband, Rudy Moll, whom she met after moving to California in the 1950s.

Moll’s flight from Nazi persecution was made possible in the aftermath of Kristallnacht when a group of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to Parliament for the admission of unaccompanied Jewish children as refugees from Nazi territories. British authorities agreed to take in an unspecified number as temporary migrants, with the assumption that they would return to Germany once the danger had passed.

Jewish organizations inside Germany and its territories planned the extraction, prioritizing especially vulnerable children, such as orphans, and organizing the travel from major cities like Prague, Vienna and Frankfurt, where Moll and her sisters were dropped off at the train station by the family maid.

Ruth Moll as a child

Ruth Moll as a child

Overall, around 10,000 children made it safely to England, mostly by train and ship, with a few arriving by airplane. The Kindertransport ceased operating in May 1940, when Dutch forces surrendered to the German army, making the last leg, the ferry, unnavigable.

“England was the only country who was willing to open their doors to save 10,000 children,” Moll said, “and they would have saved more if they would have had the money.”

Still, since she never saw the inside of a concentration camp, she never thought of herself as a Holocaust survivor. “Into the Arms of Strangers,” a documentary about the Kindertransport, changed her perspective.

“Now when people ask me, I tell them I’m a survivor,” she said. “It seems to have some kind of impact, which is really what I’m happy about.”

She sees the rescue effort that saved her life as a moral imperative for future generations, one that’s never been more pressing than today. With this in mind, she talked about the refugee crisis in Syria and Europe, saying that people today aren’t listening to what’s going on in Syria and noticing the parallels with the Holocaust.

“I’m scared for what’s happening in the world, for myself,” Moll said. “Because we said never again, but who knows?”

Kristallnacht: The remarkable Mr William Cooper and Herr Otto Jontof-Hutter


On the 9th November 1938, Otto Jontof-Hutter, together with 30,000 other Jews, was arrested in Stuttgart.

During those 24 hours – Kristallnacht – Jewish homes, schools, hospitals and synagogues across Germany and Austria were ransacked, demolished and burned, leaving hundreds dead and thousands beaten.

What went through his mind as he was marched off, is anyone’s guess, but Herr Jontof-Hutter, twice wounded in the First World War, and who won the Iron Cross, was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp, guest of the NS regime that had been elected in 1933.  

Otto Jontof-Hutter, loyal, hardworking and kindly, never saw himself other than a patriotic  German. His family had been Germans for many hundreds of years and the thought of his origins— far down the mists of time—probably was not something he consciously thought about.  He simply was a German of the Mosaic faith, did not look different from other Germans and shared a similar lifestyle with his middle class compatriots. In winter, he enjoyed langlauf skiing with his wife Flora, and their two sons Erich and Werner. Sundays they generally liked to go for a stroll and perhaps enjoy some coffee and cake. Monday it was back to work at his master tailor business that supplied ceremonial uniforms to the German military.

Across the world in Australia, William Cooper, who grew up in an aboriginal mission station near Moama in the Riverina, New South Wales, was a member of the Yorta-Yorta people  and made a living as a sheep shearer and fencer. Later he also opened up a fishmonger shop in nearby Mulwala—almost unheard of for an aboriginal in the days of the early 20th century. William Cooper not only sold the fish, but caught the fish himself in the Murray River, that runs through south-east Australia.

Otto, a Jew in Stuttgart and William, a non-Christian (though converting later in life) Aboriginal in a small Australian settlement lived far apart, both in distance and in culture. They had only two things in common—being members of an ancient culture and their decency. They never knew each other, yet somehow their lives crossed by virtue of circumstances.

When Otto was arrested for the ‘crime’ of being a Jew in Germany during the state organised pogrom of 9-10 November 1938,  the 78 year old William happened to be with his 9 year old grand-son Alf Turner (now called Uncle Boydie) in Melbourne, where he had moved to in 1933. By chance, Boydie had noticed the story of Kristallnacht in a newspaper lying on the table in their home and asked his grandfather about it. William, a tireless activist for Aboriginals—in those days subjected to Christian missionary activities, often removed from their parents and placed in “good” Christian homes —did not have the right to vote. He was probably unaware that German Jews lost their right to vote under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. Nonetheless, the news of Kristallnacht had certainly grabbed his attention to the point that he discussed it with his grandson Boydie. Uncle Boydie told me that he recalled his grandfather saying “nobody did anything about it, and therefore (he) would have to do something.”

While Otto who was well-read, languished with thousands of others in Dachau, the elderly William, who had only learned to read as an adult, wrote a strong protest letter addressed to the Nazi German regime. On 6 December 1938 when Otto had been in Dachau for about 4 weeks, William, heading an aboriginal delegation, set off from his home and walked the 10km to the German consul- general, Dr Drechsler, in central Melbourne. Dr Drechsler refused to accept the letter about the “cruel persecution of Jews in Germany,” and it was left with a security official.

The struggle for civil rights was not new to William Cooper. He had been active in circulating petitions for direct representation in the Australian parliament. On 31 January 1938, he led the first Aboriginal deputation to Prime Minister Lyons, who refused to hand over his petition to King George Vl. Bitterly disappointed, his decision therefore to later confront the German Reich as an elderly aboriginal man with few rights,  suffering ill health and fatigue, is  remarkable to say the least.

Otto Jontof-Hutter in Dachau must have felt shocked, abandoned and betrayed by the events of Kristallnacht which were gleefully endorsed by German Lutheran Bishop Martin Sasse. In contrast, he would never have been aware of the decency and attempts at protest by William Cooper in Australia.

In the end, Otto was released before the war started and managed, with the help of a lawyer, to sail to South Africa, where he would join his wife Flora and sons. His experience in Dachau was traumatic which affected his health. He spent much time painting landscapes, but died in 1948 after a massive stroke at the age of 68. He is buried in the South African city of Port Elizabeth.

William Cooper of course did not succeed in handing in his petitions to King George or the German regime. In 1941, exhausted, ill and disillusioned, he died aged 80 in Mooroopna, Victoria and was buried in Cumeroogunga. As secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, he had sought justice and dignity for his people. For Germany, he had brought a sense of outrage and conscience by example.

In 2010, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, honored William Cooper with a memorial garden. Accompanied by Colleen Marion, CEO of an aboriginal community health/legal centre in Melbourne—Uncle Boydie travelled to Israel to attend the ceremony.

In 2012, William’s march to the German consul-general in Melbourne was re-enacted and the petition to protest the treatment of German Jews was finally accepted by the German consulate.

William Cooper, a laborer who became literate only as an adult, was a great man who rose to demand justice for both his Aboriginal people and the Jewish people in Germany. He raised his voice from far off Australia while German communities, academics and church leaders either incited violence against their Jews or remained silent.

I was privileged to thank Uncle Boydie personally for what his grandfather did on behalf of my grandfather and thousands others. His strength of character and moral convictions, were an example to those in positions of power and ordinary people in Nazi Germany who shamelessly approved or were indifferent.

William and Otto, both of blessed memory, lying in graves some 10,000kms apart, never knew each other, but their story is one of inspiration. William is a role model whose example should resonate in today’s troubled Europe.

Despite full constitutional rights having been extended to all aboriginal Australians in 1967, Uncle Boydie still had some unfinished business to attend to. When Prince William visited Australia in 2014, Uncle Boydie was granted a five minute meeting with him. Prince William promised to raise the issue of William Cooper’s petition of January 1938 for aboriginal rights which had been rejected. Eventually the Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, reportedly handed in the petition to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

Thus, William Cooper’s life’s work finally came to fruition.  Some forty years after Otto’s death, his son Erich would be invited to Stuttgart as a guest of Mayor Manfred Rommel, whose own father was Field Marshall Rommel and whom Erich had fought against in North Africa under Field Marshall Montgomery’s leadership.

Uncle Boydie feels that his tasks are now complete and he enjoys leading a quiet life with his grandchildren in a country Victorian town.


Ron Jontof-Hutter is a Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism. He is the author of the satirical novel “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

Weld stands by Holocaust reference to Trump’s immigration plan


Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld on Sunday defended his recent holocaust analogy in criticizing Donald Trump’s plan to deport undocumented immigrants from the U.S. If elected as president.

Weld, who was named as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate by Gary Johnson on Thursday, told The New York Times that Trump’s plan to remove the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from the U.S. reminded him of “Kristallnacht.”

“I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear (Trump’s plan), honest,” Weld told the 

Israel on Nazi-like ‘moral descent,’ Arab Knesset member says on Kristallnacht


An Arab-Israeli lawmaker equated Israel’s actions against the Palestinians to the violence against Jews that led to the Holocaust at a speech commemorating Kristallnacht in Amsterdam.

“Kristallnacht didn’t suddenly fall from the sky, come out of nowhere, it was the result of a development over time,” Hanin Zoabi of the Joint Arab List said  Sunday afternoon. “We can see a similar development happening in Israel over the last several years.”

Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” was a pogrom over the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938 against Austrian and German Jews. Many Holocaust historians view Kristallnacht as the opening shot in the Nazi-led campaign against the Jews.

“I am honored to speak on behalf of the victims of Kristallnacht, and on behalf of all victims of racism and oppression,” Zoabi said.

Zoabi’s appearance was organized by Platform Stop Racism and Exclusion, a far-left group that is shunned by local Jews for its members’ perceived animosity toward Israel and sympathy for Hamas. About 200 people attended the event.

“During Kristallnacht, thousands of businesses and hundreds of synagogues were ruined and burned down by German brown shirts. Perhaps the majority of Germans did not approve, but they kept quiet,” she said.

“When in Israel two churches and tens of mosques are burned; and hundreds of Israeli supporters of Beitar shout ‘death to the Arabs’ after each soccer match; when a family is burned to death; when a 15-year-old boy is burned to death, the majority keeps quiet, although they are perhaps shocked,” Zoabi continued.

“Most Israelis today believe that the Jewish Zionist values are more important than democracy,” she said. “It is easy to notice the gradual moral descent that reminds us of Germany during the 1930s.”

Later, Zoabi said, “Eighty-five percent of my people were expelled, in an ethnic cleansing and colonialist plan.”

“I identify with the victims. We must not keep silent, otherwise we will be responsible,” she said. The audience applauded.

The lawmaker called for a Palestinian popular struggle, and urged the international community to join it.

“We call for a popular struggle, yes, we call for a struggle with them. International law. And it is not a call for violence, but a call for freedom,” she said.

Zoabi was also heckled from the audience. “Stop stabbing Jews,” one audience member shouted. “Am Yisrael Chai,” was also heard. Her microphone was cut off for several seconds during her speech.

Last year, Zoabi was censured by the Knesset over statements she made encouraging Palestinian “popular resistance” and saying that the kidnappers of three Israeli teens were not terrorists. She also participated in the 2010 flotilla sail to Gaza organized by the Islamic IHH group in Turkey.

 

Munich marks this Kristallnacht by making room for boycotters of the Jewish State


The worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is the twenty-first century’s highest profile anti-Israel global campaign that meets the “three D” ( Double standard, Deligitimization, and Demonization) litmus test for crossing the line between legitimate criticism of the Jewish state and toxic anti-Semitism: Never designed to help a single Palestinian, BDS singles out Israel exclusively for criticism, ignoring the major human rights abusers around the world, while distorting the Jewish state’s actions to defend herself from terrorist attacks by means of false and malicious comparisons with Nazi Germany and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

So it is almost beyond belief that the city government of Munich is allowing a BDS event to be held in the Gasteig Building, a tax-payer funded city building, as part of Munich’s “cultural program.” German Jews are especially appalled by the effrontery that such an event would be scheduled on November 9, the same day that Kristallnacht commemorations are being held to remember country-wide November, 1938 Nazi pogroms that burned German synagogues, attacked and sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps.

Charlotte Knobloch, is a Holocaust survivor who heads the 9,500-members of the Jewish community of Munich, the city where the Nazi movement was originally organized.

Knobloch has warned that: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ’Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish State’.”

Knobloch denounced the event as “a continued effort to defame, delegitimize, ostracize Israel under the cloak of allegedly legitimate criticism” and launching pad for “a comprehensive boycott against Israel will be announced aimed at hurting economics, science, culture and all areas of life.”

German authorities refused to join her denunciation. The spokesman for Munich’s Social Democratic Mayor Dieter Reiter said he “could not judge” whether the Social Democratic mayor opposes or supports a boycott of Israel. One local politician, Richard Quaas, a Munich city councilman from the Christian Social Union, did call on the city to cancel the rental agreement with the BDS group.

As Germans debate how they will deal with the influx of up to 1 million Muslims, it would also be a good time to remember how their nation dealt with the Jewish minority in the last century. Nazi newspapers started calling for boycotts of Jewish businesses after World War I, despite the outstanding record of the over 100,000 Germany Jews who served in the German Army. As Hitler rose in political popularity in 1930, SA Stormtroopers or Brown Shirts began a sporadic terror campaign including harassment, vandalism, and kidnapping Jewish judges, lawyers, doctors, and anti-Nazi activists.

Following Hitler’s coming to power on January 30, 1933, the Nazi leadership decided on an organized boycott of Jewish businesses. On April 1, the first nationwide boycott was ordered, with Berlin’s 50,000 Jewish businesses in the crosshairs. In broken store windows, signs were posted “Jews Are Our Misfortune!” and “Go back to Palestine!”

The Nazis inspired similar boycotts elsewhere, including Austria. In Poland, the head of the Catholic Church and Polish Prime Minister called for boycotts against Jews. In Hungary, the government passed laws limiting Jewish economic activity from 1938 onwards. In Palestine, the first anti-Jewish boycotts coincided with bloody anti-Jewish riots whose battle cry was “O Arab! Remember that the Jew is your strongest enemy of your ancestors since olden times.”

North America was not immune. In Quebec, French-Canadian nationalists organized boycotts of Jews in the thirties. In the U.S., the Nazi anti-Jewish boycott had defenders in distinguished academic circles, just as anti-Israel BDS campaign thrives on many university campuses today. At a time when Ivy League schools imposed discriminatory admission quotas on Jewish students, Harvard Professor S. B. Fay blamed German suffering during the Depression on anti-Hitler protestors.  Fay told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper that Germany’s affairs were “none of any other country's business.”

Cloaked in the rhetoric of nonviolent resistance, the BDS Movement today is nothing like the nonviolent Montgomery Bus Boycott protest campaign of the 1950s—which invoked Christian love against white racism. BDSers habitually cross the line, deploying historically toxic language demonizing the Jewish State and Jews everywhere.

BDS’ publicly-stated goal is to “end occupation in the territories.” Under siege by terrorists today, Israel had already unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 and is committed to a two-state solution if only it had a willing peace partner ready to accept a Jewish neighbor. Instead, as Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) confirmed to Palestinian students, the BDS Movement is really a public relations stunt designed to prepare the ground for the ultimate goal of the destruction of Israel.

As Germany welcomes twenty-first century refugees, they must not endanger the lives of descendants millions of Jews who were stripped of their rights, cast out as refugees in the 1930s, ghettoized, gunned down or gassed by the German Third Reich in the 1940s. In 2015, German leaders including those in Munich have a historic and moral obligation never to embrace those who aid and abet forces that would destroy the State of Israel—home to 6 million Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center 

Historian Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Remembering the November 1938 pogroms known as ‘Kristallnacht’


What’s in a name?

November 9, 2015, marks the 77th anniversary of the 1938 pogroms launched throughout Germany, a nation that, after March 1938, also included Austria. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, 7,000 Jewish businesses were ransacked and looted and more than 30,000 Jewish men ages 16-60 were arrested and sent to newly expanded German concentration camps that, for the first time, held a majority of Jewish prisoners.

The pogroms were given the name Kristallnacht, the Night of Crystal, which is often mistranslated as the Night of the Broken Glass. The name itself is misleading. Crystal, as my wife often reminds me, is delicate and beautiful, and to use such a term beautifies and thus falsifies the events of 1938. German historians now refer to it as the November pogroms or the Reich’s pogroms, using a far less aesthetic term but one that at least connotes violence and lawlessness.

Even the term “pogrom” is quite misleading. Pogroms were generally regarded by Jews as acts of mob violence, lawlessness either sanctioned by the authorities or not significantly opposed by them as outlaw phenomena. But, in this case, the violence of Nov. 9-11, 1938, came at the instigation of the Nazi authorities and with their blessing. 

Just before midnight on Nov. 9, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Muller sent a telegram to all police units letting them know that “in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” Rather, the police were to arrest the victims. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent Aryan properties.

The precipitating event was the attempted assassination of a minor German embassy official in Paris at the hands of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jewish youth who had received a note from his sister describing the conditions of his parents, Polish Jews living in Germany who had been expelled from Germany to Poland. Because Poland refused to accept Jewish citizens, Grynszpan’s parents were stranded in limbo. From the border town of Zbaszyn, they wrote to their son in desperation. His immediate response was to seek revenge. 

Germany had previously overlooked other assassinations, but the timing of Grynszpan’s attack coincided with the annual celebration by Nazi officials of their failed 1923 putsch against the government, which brought the party’s top leadership to Munich.

The date

The date was important to the perpetrators, as it also represented Hitler’s first — and failed — attempt to gain national power, as well as the emblem of the movement’s growth and maturation from the fringes to the mainstream. Sixty-six years later, in 1989, Nov. 9 again entered German history as the day the Berlin Wall fell. German citizens again took to the streets, this time to celebrate freedom and the reunification that was soon — and sure — to follow. Young marchers said: “This is a date that shall forever enter German history,” seemingly unaware that it had already entered German history, in 1923 and 1938.

The target

The attack on synagogues was far from accidental. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, synagogues became the public face of the German-Jewish community. Often built in prestigious downtown locations, they were near the great cathedrals of Germany and represented the arrival of the Jews within Germany’s economic, cultural and religious life. Some were modest facilities, others were grandiose, commissioned by the wealthiest Jews and designed by some of Germany’s finest architects. Just as Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles was set on Los Angeles’ finest boulevard and is surrounded by grand churches, and Temple Emanuel in New York was built on Fifth Avenue in the tony Upper East Side, Germany’s synagogues were meant to be seen and to connote the power and public face of the Jewish community. They were less the locus of prayer than a symbol of affluence and influence.

More significantly, during the early years of the Nazi regime, the role of the synagogues was dramatically transformed. 

We must recall David Marwell’s important admonition: “Just because Jews were powerless, does not mean that they were passive.” 

Synagogues became the center of Jewish activity, the lifeline of an embattled Jewish community.

Excluded from German society, many Jews turned inward, toward the Jewish community, toward one another. The synagogues responded accordingly. Persecuted throughout the city, synagogues became an oasis of tranquility and support for the Jews. They also became a hub of activity.

When Jews were excluded from public schools, synagogues housed Jewish schools, staffed by professors who, since April 1933, had been banned from teaching at universities and gymnasiums. It was in the synagogue classrooms that education continued, and not only Jewish education or secular education, but also vocational education to acquire the portable and linguistic skills necessary for emigration. Mobile professions were taught: agriculture and plumbing, electrical repair and mechanics. Music and architecture also are mobile professions, while the practice of law is not. Filmmaking — Hollywood so benefited from the German émigrés — is a mobile profession that can be practiced elsewhere. Nurses are more useful than doctors because the requirements for licensing the former are much less restrictive than the latter.

On a Monday, for example, a synagogue might house a welfare office and a soup kitchen. On Tuesday evening, the Philharmonic might play a concert under the tutelage of one of Germany’s finest conductors who was unable to perform for an “Aryan” audience. Wednesday evening might be the occasion for a theater performance organized by the Jewish Kulturbund, directed by some of Germany’s finest directors and featuring some of their greatest actors, who had been excluded from their profession. These performances were not only good for the morale of the community, but also indispensable for the economic survival of the performers. Each day, the synagogue would also serve as a center for information on emigration, as a place that assisted Jews searching for visas to countries near and far and information as to which countries were least inhospitable to Jews — the double negative is deliberate. Few were hospitable, and none in the numbers that were needed.

Jewish life was far from neglected. Martin Buber, Germany’s most prestigious Jewish theologian, led the efforts on adult Jewish education, preparing his community for the long and arduous spiritual struggle ahead. Jewish history was of interest, as was Jewish philosophy. Spiritual and religious struggles were the companions of life’s struggles. Nathan Glatzer, who later headed the Near Eastern and Jewish Studies Department at Brandeis University, recalled that German Jews were on the verge of a renaissance on the eve of their destruction. Persecution turned people inward. Many who had previously been indifferent to their Jewish roots turned to Jews and Judaism for solace and inspiration.

The synagogues were full on Friday evenings and Shabbat mornings. Prayer was a form of spiritual resistance and also a means of instruction. In his memoirs, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a fiery orator who was a community rabbi in Berlin before he immigrated to the United States in late 1937, recalled that the Nazis prohibited him from preaching, so he asked the Gestapo agent whether he could lead prayers, at a time when prayer was still allowed in Nazi Germany. Granted permission, he had his congregation read aloud, again and again, in a chant, the lines from the private meditation after the Amidah: “And all who think evil of me, speedily frustrate their counsel, undo their designs.” His congregation got the message and recited the verse with greater and greater enthusiasm. Afterward, the Gestapo agent is reported to have said, “Your prayers are more dangerous than your preaching.”

The end of one stage, beginning of another

From 1933 onward, once the Nazis came to power, they imposed conditions on the Jews that would cause them to emigrate. The killing process did not begin until 1941, but the Nazis reasoned that if they made it impossible for Jews to live as Jews in Germany, they would leave. Two conditions made this plan unrealizable: No country was willing to receive the Jews in the numbers that were necessary, and the Reich kept expanding, so that with every expansion more and more Jews came under German rule. Between 1933 and 1938, some 150,000 Jews had emigrated from Germany, yet in March of 1938, when Germany incorporated Austria, more than 200,000 Jews came under Reich domination. With the annexation of the Sudetenland, its Jews came under German control. So, too, when, in 1939, Germany conquered the rest of Czechoslovakia, And in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, and Poland was divided between the Soviet Union and the Reich, more than 2 million Jews came under German control. This vast a number of Jews could not be handled by emigration, not even to reservations or to islands, as the Nisko and Madagascar plans suggested.

So from 1933 to 1938, Jews faced severe discrimination in Nazi Germany. The goal of Nazi policy was a two-fold expropriation of Jewish property and possession, followed by forced emigration. The November pogroms intensified this policy and finalized the exclusion of Jews from German society. 

After Nov. 9, 1938, most Jews were without illusions. Jewish life in the Reich was no longer possible. Many committed suicide. Most desperately tried to leave. Unwanted at home, Jews had only a few havens abroad. They could not stay. Yet they had nowhere to go. 

Germans, too, had learned important lessons. Because of the bourgeois sensibilities of the urbanized Germans, many opposed the events of Kristallnacht. The sloppiness of the pogroms and the explosive violence of the SA, the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, were soon replaced by the cold, calculated, disciplined and controlled violence of the SS. They would dispose of the Jews outside the view of most Germans.

Violence was not the last word. Violence was followed by rational, disciplined planning.

On Nov. 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Goering convened a meeting of Nazi officials to deal with the problems that resulted from Kristallnacht. Historians are fortunate that the stenographic records of that meeting survived, for few documents reveal more candidly or more directly German policy toward the Jews at this transitional moment. Joseph Goebbels, a Ph.D. from Heidelberg and Hitler’s minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, attended the meeting. Several ministries had urgent matters, including justice and economic ones, and one industry in particular had much at stake in the outcome of the meeting — the insurance industry, which stood to lose huge sums of money if it were to pay claims from those whose property had been destroyed, yet risk losing credibility and customers if it did not pay for the losses.

Goering was clearly disturbed by the damage of the two-day rampage — not to the Jewish shops, homes and synagogues, but to the German economy. It’s insane to burn a Jewish warehouse and then have a German insurance company pay for the loss, he said. We suffer, not the Jews.

The idea was introduced to solve the Jewish problem once and for all, but in 1938, that meant in economic terms. Only later, in 1941, would the language be genocidal.

There was still the concern for “legality,” for maintaining the stability of the economy. Thus, while the economic elimination of the Jews could not be done all at once, the change in direction of policy is clear. Jews were to disappear even more from German economic life. When concerns were raised about foreign Jews, the Foreign Ministry expressed interest, not willing to surrender its authority or pre-eminence. Its concerns were assuaged, but not fully satisfied. The ministry would be consulted only for important cases, but not for every case.

There was much give-and-take at the meeting and some brainstorming. Several concrete results were achieved, all economically lethal to the Jews. The community would be fined 1 billion reichsmarks ($400 million); Jews would be responsible for cleaning up their losses and would be barred from collecting insurance. The insurance companies could offer to pay, but Jews could not collect.

Apartheid was introduced. Jews were barred from theaters; they would travel in separate compartments on trains; they would be denied entry to German schools and parks. By Jan. 1, 1939, Jews were forbidden to operate retail trades.

Concern was expressed not for those who were looted from, but for their possessions — the booty in furs and jewels belongs to the state, not to individuals. In the end, Goering expressed regrets over the whole messy business: “I wish you had killed 200 Jews and not destroyed such value.” He concluded, on a note of irony, “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”

Through a series of policy decisions, the Nazis transformed these pogroms into a program eliminating Jews from German economic life.

On Nov. 15, Jews were barred from schools. Two weeks later, authorities were given the right to impose a curfew. By December, Jews were denied access to most public places. 

The November pogroms were the last occasion for street violence against Jews in Germany. While Jews could leave their homes without fear of attack, a lethal process of destruction that was more effective and more virulent was set in place.

No event during the first years of the Nazi regime brought as much protest from abroad. Americans were united in their condemnation — religious freedom was a core American value. Clergy of all denominations protested, as did politicians of all points of view. The president of the United States called back the U.S. ambassador to Germany, one step shy of severing diplomatic relations. Yet while more than nine in 10 Americans opposed the attacks on synagogues in Germany, this did not translate into support for immigration to the United States.

What are we to learn from the events of the November pogroms? We live in a world in which synagogues, mosques and churches continue to be blown up. When we see them set aflame, we must ask: What did this institution mean to those who regarded it as sacred? What does setting these buildings aflame say about the perpetrators and their intentions? What is next? And what is to account for the rage?

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. 

Turned away in 1939: The voyage of the MS St. Louis


Hans Fisher vividly remembers his excitement on May 27, 1939, the day the MS St. Louis and its 937 refugees, most of them German Jews, reached Havana’s harbor in Cuba two weeks after leaving Hamburg, Germany.

“On that day, we got up early, all our luggage was packed. We put it in front of the cabin door, and the porters took it upstairs on deck, and then we all went on deck,” said Fisher, who was 11 at the time and traveling with his mother and younger sister.

[Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims:

‘The Last Girl at Victoria Station’ a Kindertransport story


Every morning in 1936, Anne Forchheimer would bicycle to school, over a bridge in the German town of Coburg. She tried not to notice the signs of hate she passed along the way.  Hate for Jews and the call for their removal from German society. German law had forbidden Jewish students from attending public schools. Anne’s destination on this November morning, as it had been for the last 18 months, was a special school for Jewish children. 

On this day, however, Anne was met outside of her new school by two men. Towering over her in SS uniforms, they sternly commanded her to “go home. … There’ll be no school today for Jew pigs.”

She rode back to her home, where she was greeted by two more SS recruits, who marshaled her family into a town square. There, the other 40 Jewish families of Coburg were huddled together. Soon it was announced that women and children were to return home, while the men and boys had to remain. Fortunately, Anne’s father was a traveling salesman and escaped this first foray into what became the early days of The Final Solution.

Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, exploded soon after, and as the shards of glass from broken windows lay in the streets and Jewish homes and businesses burned, Coburg’s remaining Jewish men were marched to a school gymnasium as the townsfolk yelled and jeered, “Burn them!” Later that evening, Anne was entrusted with bringing some sandwiches to their father, who this time had been captured.

“Children were not being physically attacked, so my mother was sent to where her father was being held,” Anne’s daughter, Rachel Green, said. “When she found him huddled against a wall, my mother hugged him, and I remember her telling me that this was the first time she had ever seen a man cry. After that, my mother would not see her father again until she was the last child at Victoria Station in London to be picked up, more than six months later.”

The handwriting on the wall was scrawled in red paint, and it became glaringly obvious to Jewish families in Germany that the best hope for their young children lay in one word: escape.

Anne’s journey would begin soon after that night, as thousands of German Jewish families desperately searched for an escape route for their children.

Five days after Kristallnacht, a delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of the United Kingdom, urging the British government to take in unaccompanied Jewish children. Debate on this issue ensued at the highest levels of government, and it was later decided that the government would waive immigration requirements for German Jewish children, including infants to teens up to age 17. 

An organization was quickly formed called the Refugee Children’s Movement. An appeal was sent out to British citizens to set up foster homes. There were no requirements other than that the homes be clean and open to receiving these young, innocent refugees. In Germany, a clandestine network of volunteers worked feverishly to prioritize lists of children most in peril. Anne was one of those children, and so, carrying only an identity card and a small valise of clothing and keepsakes, she boarded that train not knowing if she would ever see her family again.

Anne as a child in 1937 in Coburg, Germany. Photo courtesy of Anne Forchheimer

Arriving days later at Victoria Station in London, Anne watched as other children were picked up by either government liaisons, new foster families or, if lucky, by their own parents who had escaped Germany. Soon, all the children had left and Anne stood alone in the vast London train station.

Suddenly, Anne turned to see her father running to her. He had escaped capture and gained entry to England at the last minute.

Green concluded her mother and grandfather’s story, saying, “My mother never spoke of her journey.”

A few years ago, Green’s brother, the popular entertainment journalist Sam Rubin, traveled to the streets of Coburg from which his mother, Anne Forchheimer Rubin, now deceased, had escaped, to try to understand her roots. “To some degree, my mom has always had this sunny and optimistic side to her. What struck me was how this lovely neighborhood influenced that attitude. They didn’t believe that this could be happening in this place,” Rubin said. “I think that once she was secure, having traveled from London to America, she suppressed this journey and glossed over it. She only came to terms with it later in life. It just seemed to her that this seemingly safe and secure neighborhood could never be torn apart.  But it [was].”

Sharon Farber, a celebrated Israeli-born motion picture, television and concert music composer had heard of Anne’s story. Farber’s latest concerto, “Bestemming,” featuring the voice of Holocaust survivor Curt Lowens, was recently performed with the consuls general of Germany and Holland, as well as the Israeli consulate, participating. Farber’s concerto was hailed as “a bridge builder between cultures” and became the basis for the formation of a nonprofit organization called The Bestemming Project, which fights anti-Semitism and oppression through music and the arts.

“When I heard Anne’s story, as told to me by Rachel and Sam,” Farber said, “I was inspired to start work on another classical composition, this time about the Kindertransport and especially about Anne’s unique story, ‘The Last Child at Victoria Station.’ ” 

Letters to the editor: Nazis and Social Security, Abu Tor, campus racism and Kristallnacht


Star of David Big and Bright Deep in the Heart of Westwood

As the director of UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, I am writing in response to professor Judea Pearl’s article, “Should Campus Racism Be Discussed?” (Oct. 17). While I do not disagree with his desire to foster respectful learning spaces on campus for all students — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — I do take issue with his suggestion that Jewish Studies faculty at UCLA have been silent on campus, “afraid to reveal their sentiments and identity.” As a beacon of Jewish life on campus, the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies promotes the research and teaching of all aspects of Jewish culture and civilization. In fact, as the center enters its 21st year at UCLA, we have supported and promoted more public programs on Jewish history, society, culture and civilization than any other academic unit on campus. Our 27 affiliated faculty members teach more than 70 Jewish Studies courses annually, from literature and language courses to history, religion, law and music. We support a suite of undergraduate service-learning courses and work with numerous community partners. We touch the lives of nearly 2,000 students every year and partner with both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations across campus and in the greater Los Angeles community. I haven’t seen Pearl at a single Jewish Studies program in years, let alone a Jewish Studies course, so I do worry that he is out of touch with the very vibrant, honest and engaging work that our faculty and staff do to promote the study of all aspects of Jewish life and thought. Far from silent or complacent, our faculty and student leaders at UCLA have continually strengthened and deepened our commitment to learning and outreach in ways that have positively affected Jewish life across the campus. I personally invite you to attend our programs and peer into the vibrancy and diversity of Jewish life at UCLA.

Todd Samuel Presner, Los Angeles 


Lost in Translation

Having just returned from Germany, I read with interest the articles in the Jewish Journal about Kristallnacht (Nov. 7). I have always known what Nov. 9, 1938, represented in the march toward the Final Solution. However, I learned last week in Berlin that the term “Kristallnacht” is, in truth, a euphemism assigned to that night by the Nazis to disguise the violence of that one evening 76 years ago against the Jews of Germany. The Jews called it “The Night of the Pogrom,” not “The Night of Broken Glass.” Given that day’s destruction and what was being contemplated for the 11 million Jews all over Europe, the Jewish designation is far more descriptive than the poetic Nazi deception.

Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood


If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Profit

The problem has been here for a long time; the abolition of all spending limits by the Supreme Court has simply made it unbearable (“Nightcrawler Nation,” Nov. 7). All the reforms to Boise and back six times over will never fix this until individuals take responsibility for their own viewing and reading. No one is forced to watch this for-profit media garbage. If viewers choose to do so, they become part of the garbage.

John Thomas via jewishjournal.com


Amen

Thank you to Rabbi Daniel Landes for sharing his experience (“Abu Tor Report: Our Deadened Morality,” Nov. 7). It’s so directly difficult for him, for others in the same neighborhood, and much less directly but compelling for all of us who want peace and reconciliation. I look to him, and I apologize for the burden it places on him because he is an observant Jew and Zionist  whose ethical compass doesn’t permit him to fall into self-congratulatory nationalism. I care about his observations and opinions because, first and foremost, he is a person of principle and a teacher. I pray that we, and “we” means all of us, can find a way forward through conflict toward a sense of shared humanity that makes it possible to see holiness in each other and impossible to hurt each other. It’s a good dream. 

Laurie Malia Franklin via jewishjournal.com


Paying for Their Sins

I find the column informing the public of Nazi war criminals receiving financial support from the United States appalling, and am shocked to hear that, after all these years, SS officers and Nazi war criminals are still receiving such funds (“Why Some Nazis Are Collecting Social Security,” Oct. 31). The Holocaust was a horrific event that inflicted suffering on millions, yet the very men and women who helped hurt innocent people are receiving financial benefit. What is the point of teaching future generations about the grievances of the Holocaust if the very people involved are not being brought to justice?

Adi Vildorf, Encino


correction

In an article about Alan Gross (“The Forgotten Man,” Nov. 7), an American being held in a Cuban prison, an incorrect date was given for the creation of the Jewish Cuba Connection. It was established in 2000.

Kristallnacht’s lessons for today


Each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we recall the opening salvo of the violent assault on Jews that foreshadowed the Holocaust and ask ourselves what should have been done at that moment.

In thinking about Kristallnacht, we should also consider the outpouring of violence against Jewish communities in Europe this summer and draw the right lessons for today. It is rightly said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers but with words. The significance of Kristallnacht in the history of the Holocaust is the passage from anti-Jewish legislation and anti-Semitic rhetoric to violence against Jews. And therein lies the lesson for today.

To be clear, in today’s democratic Europe, there is no risk of a new Holocaust. Invoking such a possibility obscures rather than illuminates the serious situation of European Jewry. Comparisons to Kristallnacht, however, are apt.

This summer we saw in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, anti-Semitic rhetoric followed by assaults on Jews and attacks on synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and other Jewish institutions. The differences with Kristallnacht are stark and significant, but the similarities cannot be ignored. Not on this anniversary — not at a time of great insecurity among Jewish communities in Europe.

Two synagogues were attacked during anti-Israel demonstrations this summer in Paris. In one case, two hundred Jews were trapped inside, while a mob, armed with bats, tried to invade the synagogue. Roger Cukierman, the head of the French Jewish community, made the connection explicit: “We’ve never seen anything like that. It resembled Kristallnacht in 1938 in Germany.”

And in Germany, where people chanted “Jews to the gas” at anti-Israel rallies and where Molotov cocktails were thrown at synagogues, Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews of Germany said, “These are the worst times since the Nazi era.”

The British Jewish community’s security agency, CST, said that July 2014 had the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in any one month since it began keeping records three decades ago. Highly esteemed and hardly alarmist former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote at Yom Kippur that the Jewish community suffers “a degree of apprehension I have not known in my lifetime. Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust.”

European Jews were terrorized by Kristallnacht, and among elements of society in Europe today they are being terrorized once again by anti-Semitic hatred, especially, but not only, linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The terror is not from one night, but from an accumulation of incidents over the past years.

During Operation Protective Edge this summer, and during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, ADL reported on anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric around the world, related to the Israel-Hamas wars. We saw incitement to violence, demonization of Jews and Israel, blood libels and other anti-Semitic vitriol. Too often these words led to assaults and vandalism.

And those attacks have caused vast numbers of European Jews to no longer feel free to live openly as Jews. The European Union’s human rights agency surveyed eight major Jewish communities in Europe in 2012 and found widespread insecurity. One in five Jews had been the victim of an anti-Semitic insult, harassment or assault, and one in three worried about being physically attacked over the next 12 months. Two out of five Jews always or frequently avoided wearing a kippah or Star of David in public.

Anti-Semitism never left the continent, but its recent transformation from rhetoric to violence, including murders at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the Jewish museum in Brussels, has caused a sea change in the confidence of Jewish communities across Europe. Most European political leaders have condemned the anti-Semitic incidents in their countries, but the indifference among the public is shocking and dismaying. If the hatred espoused and acted out by the anti-Semites and the apathy of European citizens overtake the efforts of the well-intentioned political leaders, European Jewish communities will have a dim future: communal self-segregation, individual withdrawal from Jewish communal life or emigration.

“Never again” stands. There will not be another Holocaust. But Kristallnacht is another story. Let us learn its lessons, not to avoid another Holocaust but to avoid a different disaster, the slow terrorization of Europe’s Jews into permanent fear, faced with the awful choice of abandoning their identity or fleeing.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor.

Witnesses to Kristallnacht


On a Wednesday evening in late 1938, the sounds of broken glass shattered the quiet streets of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over the next 24 hours, Nov. 9-10, rampaging Nazi mobs would torch more than 1,000 synagogues; vandalize Jewish homes, businesses and cemeteries; and kill nearly 100 Jews. As many as 30,000 Jews were arrested and carted off to concentration camps. These coordinated attacks, which came to be known as Kristallnacht —  the Night of Broken Glass — mark the beginning of the Holocaust.

Survivors who lived to tell the story of the terror of Kristallnacht  — some quite young at the time — remember vividly the horrors of that night. These four, who share their memories on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, are among the lucky ones whose families were able to escape and who, eventually, made their way to Los Angeles. 


Herbert Jellinek, Vienna

Late on the morning of Nov. 10, 1938, Herb and his father, Leo, were walking home from their weekly visit to the public baths,when from a distance they saw the Turner Temple in flames. Only a year and four months earlier, Herb had become a bar mitzvah at this Vienna synagogue, but now Nazi Brownshirts, also called SA or Stormtroopers, were standing around with the local police, watching the building burn, and a crowd of Austrians had gathered and were cheering the sight. Herb and Leo stayed in the shadows. “We were very afraid,” Herb said. “We tried to get home as quickly as possible.”

They arrived at their apartment on Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna’s main shopping street, around noon to find Herb’s mother, Irma, in tears. Later that afternoon, Herb peeked out of their living room window and saw hordes of Brownshirts going from building to building, breaking the windows of apartments and stores where Jews lived and shopped. He also witnessed the Brownshirts roughing up Jewish men, dragging them out of their apartment buildings. Herb’s family fully expected the Nazis to come to their door to take Leo, and possibly 14-year-old Herb. They sat on the couch, wearing their overcoats because the apartment didn’t have central heat, and waited. 

Suddenly the doorbell rang. Irma opened the door and was surprised to find their electrician standing there, responding to their call from several days earlier to repair a broken radio. “I can’t understand what’s going on,” he told the Jellineks. “It’s ridiculous.”

Herb and his parents waited the rest of the night, listening to their newly repaired radio and staying quiet so as to not draw attention to themselves. They learned later that their concierge had steered the Nazis away, informing them no Jews lived in the building. 

The next day, Herb’s parents resolved to leave Austria. 

The situation had been deteriorating, especially since the Anschluss on March 12, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria. Three days later, Hitler had entered Vienna, the climax of a triumphant tour of Austria. Despite a warning over loudspeakers that anyone leaning out a window or leaving curtains open would be shot, Herb peered out to see Hitler riding in an open car with his hand raised. He heard people cheering and saw buildings adorned with swastika flags and banners. “It was like everyone all of a sudden became Nazi,” he recalled. 

Shortly after, Herb was forced to transfer from public school to a Jewish school, an hour’s streetcar ride, and at least weekly he found himself fighting members of the Hitler Youth. 

But Kristallnacht was the turning point for the Jellineks, and the following week Herb accompanied his father to the American consulate, where Leo filed an application to immigrate to the United States. But the waiting list was long, as it was at other consulates they visited. Weeks later, they learned that only Shanghai, which the British had established as a treaty port in the 1840s, would take them without a visa. With difficulty, Leo secured second-class tickets on an Italian passenger ship, departing Trieste in the spring.

In June 1939, Herb and his parents left Vienna. As they crossed the border into Italy and an Italian customs official entered their train car, they felt great relief. 

“A lot of people forget. You can’t forget what we went through,” Herb said. 


Rita Feder, Berlin

As evening fell on Nov. 10, 1938, Rita heard a huge crash outside her family’s apartment on Berlin’s Metzer Strasse. She looked out the front window and there, next to the entrance to their building, she saw four or five Brownshirts throwing cement blocks through the windows of the stores that occupied the ground floor. Rita’s mother, Fanny, started screaming. She dragged 10-year-old Rita away from the window and closed the drapes. 

 The Atterman family in Berlin in 1938. From left, mother Fanny, brother Jona (Heinz), Rita, brother Bill (Willy) and father Max

The family gathered in the living room, in the center of the apartment and away from the front windows and the back staircase. Rita sat in the dark with her parents and older brother, Bill (Willy). Her middle brother, Jona (Heinz), had immigrated to Palestine several months earlier. Time moved slowly. “I was so scared. It was the only time I was almost traumatized,” Rita recalled. While Max Atterman, her father, thought the Nazi hysteria would pass, Rita believed this was the end.  

The next day, Rita saw the store windows had been boarded up and the owners were sweeping up shattered glass. “There was not one store that wasn’t hit,” she said. Rita went to school that day, but no one talked about what had happened. 

Life had become increasingly unhappy for Rita as Hitler gained power. A gymnast and a sprinter, she had dreams of participating in the Olympics and desperately wanted to attend the 1936 Berlin Games. But Jews were not allowed. Her father did take her, however, to watch the men’s 50-kilometer walk, which took place along city streets.

About a year later, in 1937, Rita and her mother were walking near Alexanderplatz when the crowd began buzzing that Hitler was approaching. Everything quickly came to a standstill, and Fanny warned her daughter, “You better raise your hand now and scream, ‘Heil, Hitler.’ ” Rita shouted the salute as the Führer rode by in his open car, his arm raised. “I felt terrible,” Rita recalled.

Kristallnacht convinced Fanny that it was time to leave Germany, but Max wanted to stay. He thought again, however, as people around them began making plans to emigrate. Then, after visiting various consulates in Berlin, he discovered the world was blocked off to Jews. 

One day, a family friend came to visit. “We’re getting out of here, and you are, too. We’re going to China,” she told Fanny and Max. Max thought she was crazy.

In December 1938, Max made arrangements to send Rita to live with his niece in Antwerp, Belgium. When the smuggler came for her, Rita was frightened. “You have to go. It’ll save your life,” her mother told her. The man, who was Jewish, delivered Rita to her relatives. “They were wonderful people,” she said. 

In July 1939, the niece’s husband brought Rita back to Berlin, and a week later, Rita, her parents and her brother Bill boarded a train to Italy. “A stone fell off my parents’ hearts. They were getting away,” Rita said. They took a passenger ship to Shanghai, and in 1947, she and Bill immigrated to Los Angeles. 

“I have to give back to God and my country. I’m so fortunate,” Rita said.


Tom Tugend, Berlin

From his family’s second-floor apartment on Berlin’s Greifswalder Strasse, during the late-night hours of Nov. 9 or very early on Nov. 10, 1938, Tom heard the crashing of glass as bricks or rocks were heaved through the windows of the street-level shops. Tom’s mother, Irene Tugendreich, hustled Tom, 13, and his older sister, Brigitte, into her bedroom, and then his usually undemonstrative mother lay down and cuddled her children in the dark room. 

Tom Tugend, 14, and his mother, Irene Tugendreich, in 1939 in Philadelphia, their first year in the United States. 

At one point, the doorbell rang. The owner of the stationery store on the building’s ground level stood in the hallway, deathly pale and shaking. “Can you hide me?” he begged. The gentile landlady, who had answered the door and who also lived on the second floor, was too frightened to take him in; her Jewish husband had been sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp just a few days earlier. But she allowed the man to run through Tom’s apartment and out the back door. Tom didn’t feel particularly frightened at the time, he said, but, “I always remember his face, that absolutely horror-stricken face.”

Tom, his sister and mother returned to the bedroom. Tom continued to hear the shattering glass and the shouting mob. The three of them were grateful that Tom’s father was in the United States, as he undoubtedly would have been arrested.

The following day, Tom went to school. He remembers seeing the shattered glass on the streets and the stores being boarded up. But in a few days, life returned to what was then normal. He was riding his bike to school and playing soccer, the activity that mattered most to him at the time. 

His father, Gustav, a highly respected pediatrician and a World War I medical officer, had believed for a long time that Hitler was an aberration. But by 1937, when Gustav was no longer permitted to treat non-Jewish patients and when the family was forced to move from their upper-middle-class apartment to a smaller one in a working-class neighborhood, Gustav realized it was time to leave. Plus, he was likely influenced by Irene’s more pronounced sense of urgency. But by that time, most countries had closed their borders, and it was impossible to obtain visas.

Gustav, however, had tracked down the American and British Quakers, with whom he had worked in Germany in 1919 feeding hungry children. They found an immigration law exception for academicians and secured Gustav a one-year lectureship at the University of London in 1937-38 and one at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania the following year, thus qualifying him for a non-quota visa. Meanwhile, after the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and again after Kristallnacht, Gustav had been writing the family urgent letters from the United States, begging them to depart as soon as possible.

Finally, on April 20, 1939, with flags bedecking the city to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday, Tom, Brigitte and Irene boarded a plane from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport to London. They then traveled to Southampton and sailed by passenger ship to New York. 

Tom cautions that the trouble with writing history is that you see it through the lens of what has happened since. “Nobody could imagine at that time, even after Kristallnacht, that the Holocaust could happen,” he said.

Since 1955, Tom has lived permanently in Los Angeles. He has been writing regularly for the Jewish Journal since 1993 and serves as a contributing editor.


Risa Igelfeld, Vienna

Before Kristallnacht, and even before the Anschluss, when Risa witnessed Nazi soldiers singing and marching along the streets, she saw many Viennese turning to Nazism. “They came up like cockroaches. It was a frightening time,” she said.

Risa Relles Igelfeld, center, in Vienna in 1928 with her older sister, Edith Relles, and half-brother, Paul Knie. The girls were given the maiden name of their mother, who died when Risa was 1. 

Risa was asleep in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 1938, when the sound of boots kicking the front door of their house awakened her abruptly. “Where’s the money?” she heard the intruders shout. Risa, 21, and her older sister, Edith, who shared a bedroom, heard them enter their parents’ bedroom. “You’re coming with us,” they ordered Risa’s father, Ruben. The girls got out of bed and started dressing. “I was shaking like a leaf,” Risa recalled. The Brownshirts burst into their bedroom, searching for money, then left with Ruben. Risa and Edith stood together, holding onto one another. “I was so scared, just so scared,” Risa remembered.

About an hour later, Risa ventured into the living room. Daylight had broken, and she looked out the window onto Favoritenstrasse, one of Vienna’s main streets, to see other Brownshirts pulling away in Ruben’s first-ever new car. She kept pacing back and forth to the window. At one point, she saw SS and Brownshirts marching up and down the street, singing. Another time, she glanced at the window of the house across the street to see a neighbor sticking out her tongue at her. 

The following night, Risa’s half-brother, Paul Knie, managed to cross Austria’s border and head for Belgium. Then on Sunday, Risa was walking alone when she was stopped by the Brownshirts, who forced her to eat grass. She also saw elderly Jews she knew, on their hands and knees cleaning the sidewalks. “That was very upsetting for me,” she recalled.

The family did not learn Ruben’s fate until a month later, when they received a letter from him. He had been taken to Dachau and then Buchenwald. 

In early January 1939, Risa, following in her sister’s footsteps, left for London on a domestic visa sent by an English family looking for a servant. Soon after, she was promoted to the position of nanny for the couple’s two young children. 

Back in Vienna, Risa’s stepmother went to Nazi headquarters and bribed an SS official, who agreed to release Ruben with the stipulation that the couple leave Austria immediately. They boarded a boat to Palestine but were refused entry. Other ports were also closed. They finally landed on the island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, where they were imprisoned for three years. 

Before Kristallnacht, Paul had gone to the American consulate to search its telephone books for people with their surname, Knie, writing letters pleading for help. A couple in Chicago, Max and Tesse Knee, who were not related, responded, offering affidavits for all the family members. “They were just good people,” Risa said. Her parents arrived in New York around 1944. Risa and her husband, Gershom Igelfeld, whom she married in London, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949. 

Church to become first synagogue in German state since Kristallnacht


A former church will become Germany’s newest synagogue and the first in the state of Brandenburg since 1938.

In ceremonies on Sunday, Ulrike Menzel, who has led the Evangelical parish in Cottbus since 2009, handed a key for the Schlolsskirche, or “castle church,” to the Jewish Association of the State of Brandenburg.

The actual dedication of the synagogue is planned for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27.

“It’s wonderful to see this house of worship returned to its intended use,” Menzel said at the ceremony, according to the Nordkurier online newspaper. For decades, the building has been used for social and communal events.

Sunday’s ceremony comes almost 76 years after Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” a Germany-wide pogrom in which Jewish property and synagogues — including the one in Cottbus — were destroyed. A department store stands on the site today.

The state of Brandenburg contributed the full purchase cost for the decommissioned church, $730,700, and will contribute about $62,400 per year for maintenance, according to a statement on the community’s website. The city of Cottbus oversaw the removal of the cross and church bell from the steeple. All other costs of renovation were to be borne by the state Jewish association.

The Cottbus Jewish community has pledged to use the structure as a synagogue for at least 25 years.

Cottbus traces the first mention of Jewish residents to 1448. Its first Jewish house of prayer was established in 1811 in the inner courtyard of a cloth maker. At the time, there were 17 Jews in Cottbus. In 1902, a larger synagogue was dedicated. Nazi hooligans set it afire on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938.

The Jewish community was not formally reestablished in Cottbus until 1998. Today it has some 350 members, all from the former Soviet Union.

Music makes the long journey from Israel to L.A.


It was late during World War II and Curt Lowens, a member of the Dutch resistance whose family had fled Berlin after Kristallnacht, saw an Allied plane in distress. He knew what he had to do. 

Lowens followed the plane, watched as its pilots bailed out and then met them on the ground, guiding them to safety and helping them evade capture by the Nazis. Now, Lowens’ act of heroism and the story of his life during the war are being honored by a concerto written by award-winning composer Sharon Farber, which will be premiered by the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra on Jan. 5 at the First Baptist Church of Glendale.

The story of how Farber met Lowens, now 88, is a tale of happy coincidences and being in the right place at the right time. Farber was born in Israel and came to the United States to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1994. Then  she moved to Los Angeles and began scoring for film and television, working on projects as diverse as The WB’s “Superman” animated series and Showtime docudramas. But despite her success in film and TV, Farber had a longing to do something different.

“I come from a classical background, so I knew, always, that I wanted to continue with that,” Farber said during a recent interview. “Unless you’re a film music fan, you don’t really pay attention to the music, while in concert music, people come to hear what you have to say.”

So Farber set about writing classical pieces and soon found her works being produced around town. She was working with an Israeli choir called LA-Shir when fate steered her life in a different direction. The group was performing at the Temple of the Arts, and, according to Farber, “After the performance, [Rabbi David Baron] approached me and asked me if I would consider becoming the new music director. I said ‘no’… but David is a very persuasive man.”

And so a partnership was born. Farber has been the music director at the synagogue ever since, something that has brought her much closer to her faith. 

“When you live in Israel, you take your Judaism for granted,” Farber said. “I realized that here, you have to really seek for it.”

Sharon Farber

Other things, though, just walk into your life — kind of like Curt Lowens. That happened for Farber on Yom Kippur this past year as the composer was searching for inspiration after having been contacted by Ruslan Biryukov, founder of the Glendale Philharmonic, about composing a piece for the group. 

That’s when Lowens, who became an actor, walked onstage and began to speak about his life at the Temple of the Arts. Farber knew she’d found the source of inspiration for her piece.

“When Ruslan called me … for this commission, I was really burned out. I’d just finished three films in a row,” Farber said. “And then, of course, came Yom Kippur, where Curt’s story was presented, and it was so moving … that it inspired me to try and put his story into music.”

The result is a cello concerto roughly 20 minutes in length called “Bestemming,” which means “destination” in Dutch. The piece includes narration, which will be read by Michael Des Barres, the actor and musician, whom many will remember from his role as the villainous Murdoc on “MacGyver.” 

Biryukov said he is excited to premiere the concerto with his Glendale Philharmonic, which was founded at the height of the recession, performing its first concert in 2009, and has managed to thrive. 

“We will have Baroque, we will have Romantic, and also contemporary [music in the program],” he said. Farber’s piece will be bookended by Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” and Bach’s Concerto for Two Pianos in C minor. 

Biryukov, a noted cellist, says that “Bestemming” has proved a welcome challenge. 

“The solo cello part is very demanding technically,” he said. “I have no doubt many cellists… will consider performing this piece. It’s accessible for the listeners, in spite of the fact that it’s contemporary music.”

For her part, Farber is just hopeful that her composition can live up to Lowens’ story. “I’m hoping that I’m able to convey through music what he went through,” she said. 

Lowens has already approved the narration, and plans to be present for the concert, according to Farber

“I hope that this concerto will talk to the hearts of the people, so that we never forget,” she said. “That not only Jewish people will hear it, but people all over the world, that we will never forget what cruelty is, but also what people can do, the courage when you face such a horrible situation.”

Keene, Kaliningrad and Riga: Confronting the memory of Kristallnacht


I travel for my work; I travel often — my wife and children might say too often. Just before Chanukah, I was in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Canada, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., and then back home. A hectic schedule is of little interest, but what I experienced might be.

November marked the 75th anniversary of the Third Reich’s pogroms of 1938, still commonly referred to in the sanitized language of that time as Kristallnacht. Crystal is fragile and beautiful; setting aflame synagogues throughout Germany and Austria, destroying some 7,000 Jewish businesses, killing 91 Jews, arresting 30,000 Jewish men age 16-60 and shipping them off to newly expanded concentration camps, is anything but beautiful.

I was invited to Keene University in New Hampshire, which convened a series of programs over four days to commemorate these pogroms by stressing the importance and the fragility of the common space we share. At its culminating event, 900 students and faculty, townspeople and officials gathered in a restored downtown theater to remember the past and reinforce the sense of Commons – an important New England term — making room in that common space for a diversity of people and opinion, a mosaic of people who enrich even the rural New Hampshire landscape. The fire chief spoke of the mission of his department — so antithetical to the instructions sent out to German fire officials those November days: “Do not put out the fires at the synagogue, unless they threaten the Aryan buildings nearby.” Those instructions were followed by most, but not all, fire departments – there were rare instances in which chiefs would not let their town burn. Survivors spoke of their experiences as young children seeing sacred space aflame and also understanding that in such a world, nothing was sacred.

I was invited to keynote the event, and I spoke first of the place of the synagogue in Germany as a self-confident public manifestation of Jews in German society and then of the impressive role of the synagogue under Nazi oppression. By day, German synagogues between 1933 and ’38 served as welfare offices and emigration offices and as schools – the safest place for a Jewish child was the Jewish school, but danger lurked on the way to school and home from school. Synagogues also became a training center for mobile professions, a recognition that many careers were no longer viable — plumbers and electricians are mobile, so too are agricultural workers and musicians, even architects and filmmakers. Nurses are mobile, but not doctors, whose licensing requirements are cumbersome. Lawyers and writers are not mobile. In the evening, the synagogues changed character. They became language schools : Hebrew for those going to Palestine and English. And arts centers: One night might feature a theater performance or an opera, a symphonic concert or even a ballet giving employment to Jews who’d been kicked off the German stage. Evenings were also spent in adult education, with the likes of Martin Buber leading efforts to give German Jews inner strength to withstand the daily assaults on their very beings.

At the same time, Shabbat services took on new meaning, with Jews who seldom set foot in synagogue coming out of a need to be together. Prayers became codes, and sermons became an indirect way of speaking from the Torah to the anguish of those days. Imagine speaking of Pharaoh and Haman then.


I was also invited to Kaliningrad, Russia, for a conference commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg, was once a German city on the Baltic coast. Ethnic Germans were expelled in 1946. This year it was the site of an annual conference on the Holocaust organized by Ilya Altman, the imaginative head of the Moscow-based Russian Holocaust Center; each year, the conference takes place in a Russian city with a direct experience of the Holocaust and commemorates significant anniversaries of the events that took place in his country.

Doctoral students and young professors read papers on the repressed history of their town, including on the synagogues, and on the Jewish community before the war. Konigsberg was also the home for a time of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat, later stationed in Kovno, who gave Jews visas to Shanghai in the last days of an independent Lithuania.

The well-known story bears repeating. As Lithuania was being overtaken by Germany, the Dutch Consul, Jan Zwartendyk, discovered that Curacao did not required a visa for entry; in partnership with his Japanese counterpart Sugihara, he learned that if a passport holder had an end visa, he or she could get a transit visa to travel via the Soviet Union to Japan, and to Japanese-held territory in China. Shanghai, in the late 1930s had become a haven for German Jews. Among those rescued were Lithuanian Yeshiva students of Mirer Yeshiva, which was transferred to Shanghai for the war years. Though Japan was allied with Germany, it did not partake in the Final Solution to the Jewish problem, and the Shanghai ghetto became home to some 30,000 Jews.

But the Russian scholars at the conference were less interested in the end results of Sugihara’s valiant efforts, and more in his regional role. A Finnish professor spoke of newly declassified documents that identify Sugihara as a Japanese spy masquerading as a diplomat. His task in Konigsberg — to track Soviet ships on the Baltic. Scholars speculated – though I will not — as to why he was freed by the Soviet Union, which had imprisoned him and another famous diplomat rescuer, Raoul Wallenberg, while Wallenberg was allowed to die in Soviet custody.

Most impressive, for me, was listening to concerns of Russian secondary school teachers who teach the Holocaust there, and how similar they are to the issues raised by American teachers. How do you personalize the history so that the abstract recitation of times, dates and events become real for the students? Russian teachers, like their American counterparts, have no problem making this history relevant to their student’s lives, as the students can relate to the Holocaust to their own contemporary situation. The sensitive teacher however, must ensure the connections are authentic and deep, not trivial and imagined.

The Kongisberg synagogue is being rebuilt on the site of its ruins in the city’s historic downtown, near to the Main Cathedral. Its entrance will be modeled on the original façade. A Russian Jew has given seven-million Euros to the project. Because I am writing the foreword to a book on German synagogues and their place within the city landscape, and because I never write a foreword to a book unless I have read it in its entirety, I had in my computer the Konisberg synagogue’s original architectural drawings, as well as pictures combed from archives throughout the world. Was it a coincidence or fate? The architects were as startled as I was by what I was able to give to them.

I also had to be in Latvia for some meetings, and because air connections would have involved a nine-hour layover in Moscow, I decided to drive between Kaliningrad and Riga — traversing Russia, Lithuania and Latvia. The distance was not great, some 250 miles, but the landscape touched on Jewish memories. A third of the trip was on a country road through a two-country national park, with the Baltic Sea on one side and a magnificent forest in the waning hours of its fall colors on the other. As a student of the Holocaust, I wondered — How many Jews could hide in these hundred miles of woods?

A ferry linked me to the mainland, and then a sojourn through the countryside of Lithuania. Signs were pointing to Vilnius (Vilna) in one direction and Kaunas (Kovno) in another. Would that I had had the time — I was ready to explore Jewish history in these two famous cities. I arrived in Riga on Independence Day, where thousands of people were walking the streets, and a light show illuminated the darkness. In the morning I toured the ghetto where Sigi Ziering, whose Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics I direct, was interned, along with his mother and brother — sent from Germany to Riga — and where his name appears on a list of survivors. A local rabbi is seeking to tell the ghetto story in historic buildings on its actual site. He is developing the site slowly, with great determination and drive.

As a Jew travelling in Eastern Europe, I always see what is there, but also was is not there. I am haunted by the Presence of Absence and the Absence of Presence. As a scholar teaching about these sites, it is a privilege to share the story of what once was and is no longer, most especially to the younger generation, who are so very anxious to learn.

Survivor: Doli Sadger Redner


Doli Offner (now Doli Redner) and her older sister, Lea, stood single file along with a group of young women at Auschwitz as Dr. Josef Mengele walked past, dispatching each with a flick of his thumb to one side or another. Lea was sent to the labor camp line and Doli to the gas chamber. Doli couldn’t move. She daydreamed about being reunited with her mother and let herself be pushed ahead by the other girls, who were crying and shoving as whips cracked down on them. Then, suddenly, she was pulled from her line and moved to Lea’s. Doli didn’t know who saved her life, but at that moment she thought, “If somebody did that for me, I’m not going to give up.” 

It was summer 1942. Doli was 13. 

Doli was born on April 2, 1929, in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), to Jakub and Toba Sadger Offner. Lea was born in 1924.

Jakub owned a hosiery factory in Chemnitz, Germany, and then a retail store, selling silk stockings, socks and gloves. 

The family lived in an apartment building they owned. For Doli, life in her Modern Orthodox family was “very, very beautiful.” She attended Jewish school and loved Shabbat, when she and her sister were allowed into the dining room, where the table was set with a white damask tablecloth and adorned with crystal, silver and her mother’s delicious food. 

In fall 1938, however, as persecutions against Jews increased, Doli’s parents sold the store and made plans to move to Palestine. They shipped their household goods ahead and awaited papers.

But on Nov. 9, in what came to be known as the nationwide pogrom of Kristallnacht, Doli heard “screaming, shouting and the splintering of glass” and sat huddled with her family in their dark apartment. Later that same night, Nazis pounded on their door and arrested Doli’s father. 

Doli, her mother and sister were forced to move to a one-room apartment in their same building. Then, one night in December 1938 or January 1939, a man came to the door and handed Doli’s mother a package. “Be gone by morning,” he said. 

The next day they took the train to Katowice, Poland, where they encountered Jakub, 50 pounds lighter and covered in boils. He had escaped from Dachau with the help of Freemasons. After several weeks in Katowice, the family went to Oswiecim, where they lived with Doli’s maternal grandfather and her mother’s two sisters. 

In early September 1939, the Germans bombed Oswiecim. German soldiers came to the house demanding the names of the Freemasons who had helped Jakub escape. Jakub soon left. The family later heard he had been shot somewhere in Poland by the Germans. 

During this time, to keep busy, Doli apprenticed to a dressmaker. 

In April 1941, the Jews of Oswiecim were loaded into cattle cars and taken to Bedzin. Doli lived in one room in the open ghetto with her mother, sister, grandfather and Tante Rosa.

One morning, at 4 a.m., banging on the door awakened Doli’s family. Two Gestapo with pointed bayonets and a Jewish policeman stood there. “Get ready,” they said. The family was marched to a town square, where selections were carried out. Doli’s grandfather and Tante Rosa were taken away. 

Doli, her mother and sister were sent back to the ghetto. Knowing the soldiers would return, they slept every night wearing two dresses and two sets of underwear. 

Soon after, again at 4 a.m., two Gestapo appeared and escorted them to the square. On the way they passed a wheat field where Jews had been hiding. The Germans had set the field on fire, and Doli remembers hearing screams. 

In the square, Doli’s mother was selected for transport to Auschwitz. Doli and Lea, meanwhile, and about 50 young women, were left in the square all night. 

The next day they were taken to Birkenau and later to Auschwitz, where Mengele made his selections. Those who passed were transported to a labor camp in Bausnitz, Sudetenland, to work in a spinning mill. 

Doli held various jobs at the mill, working alongside Czech and German townspeople, some of whom risked their lives to sneak her extra food. Still, she said, “We were starving.”

The prisoners worked six days a week, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Every Sunday they cleaned the entire camp and washed and mended clothes. Doli had two summer dresses, two sets of underwear and a pair of leather lace-up shoes, which she wore for four years. 

A year and a half later, they were marched to Parschnitz, several miles away, and housed in an abandoned spinning mill. It was old and “full of vermin,” Doli remembers.  

They woke at 6 a.m. for roll call, which often took several hours, sometimes in snow or rain. After a cup of ersatz coffee and a slice of bread, they were marched back to Bausnitz, where they continued to work in the factory. 

In the winter of 1944/1945, work at Bausnitz ceased. They remained at Parschnitz, digging ditches and laying railroad ties. “It was very hard labor,” Doli said. They received food — a slice of bread — only on the occasional days they were selected to work. 

Then one day the gates opened, and Russian soldiers announced, “You are free.” It was May 1945. Doli was just 16. She was 5-foot-7 and weighed 70 pounds. With nowhere to go, she and Lea stayed at the camp, hiding from the Russian soldiers and eating whatever food they found. When it ran out, they traveled to Prague.

They stayed there for three months, at a YMCA that served as a displaced persons camp and then a women’s residence. 

In February 1946, with Passover coming, they went to the Jewish Agency for matzahs. A British officer heard them speaking German and asked their names. He then burst out crying. “Your father was my best friend,” he said. 

The officer arranged for Doli to go to England under a special program for children under 17. Later he helped Lea immigrate to Palestine. 

Doli arrived in England with a change of underwear, a toothbrush and a comb. She reconnected with family friends from Breslau, the Gelbards, who bought her clothes and other necessities and became her surrogate family.

Doli attended high school, secretarial school and some college and later worked for the Jewish Refugee Committee. She became a naturalized British citizen in 1952.

One Sunday in 1956, Mrs. Gelbard invited Doli for tea. There, she met Aron Redner, who had left Breslau in 1938 and joined the Royal Air Force. “The moment I met him, his fate was sealed,” Doli said. They married in a judge’s chambers three months later, on Dec. 26, 1956.

Doli had previous planned to immigrate to Canada, so she left for Montreal the next day. Aron arrived later, and they were married again, this time in a Jewish ceremony on Lag B’Omer, 1957. They adopted their daughter Tina in 1963. 

In June 1964, Doli, Aron and Tina moved to Simi Valley to be near Lea, who then lived there with her family. Doli worked as a home economics teacher at Simi Valley Adult School. Their daughter Jackie was born in 1965. 

Later, in the 1990s, Doli and Aron moved to Phoenix, this time to be closer to Tina and her family. Doli became a real estate broker. 

In 2011 the couple moved to Palm Court Retirement Living in Culver City. 

Today, Doli is 84 and she likes to take walks, play Pan and knit. She enjoys her children and three grandchildren.

In 2011, Doli published a memoir titled “1938,” which is available on Amazon. 

“Just don’t think it can’t happen to you. It can happen to anyone,” she said. 

German trade union leader opposes West Bank boycott


German trade union leader Michael Sommer vowed to stand up to unionists who want to boycott goods made in West Bank Jewish settlements.

“As long as I am head of this organization, there will never be a resolution that says ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’ ” said Sommer, 61, chair of the Federation of German Trade Unions, accepting the Arno Lustiger Award at the third annual German-Israel Congress on Sunday.

The federation, which was founded in Munich in 1949, is an umbrella organization for eight German trade unions, in total representing more than 6 million people.

The pro-Israel event, which drew more a crowd of more than 1,500 to a congress center in the former East Berlin, took place on the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, when synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed and looted across Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia.

Co-organized by German Jewish activists Sacha Stawski and Melody Sucharewicz, the event, which in previous years was held in Frankfurt, featured a market of pro-Israel organizations and businesses, guest speakers and “labs” on Israeli culture and business, Judaism and politics.

It concluded with a concert featuring German soul singer Mic Donet and Kathleen Reiter, a Canadian-Israeli singer and the winner of the Israeli version of “The Voice.”

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he wished there was no need for such a major pro-Israel event in Germany. But with “Israeli bashing in fashion” these days, he said the congress convinced him that “we friends of Israel are not so alone as we sometimes feel.”

“Today we are strong as an ox,” he said.

A small pro-Palestinian demonstration was held across the street from the venue.

In his remarks, Sommer said some unions are especially critical of Israel’s settlement policy, which is the target of the boycott movement. He tells them “that an honest peace means that no one should be threatened. And as long as Israeli is threatened, I stay on the side of Israel.”

Berlusconi stresses support for Israel, Jews in wake of Hitler comparison


Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stressed his support for Israel and Jewish causes after sparking outrage by comparing his family to Jews under Hitler.

In an excerpt of a book to be released Friday, the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Berlusconi was quoted Wednesday as saying that because of the long series of court cases against him, “my children say they feel like Jewish families must have felt during the Hitler regime. Truly everyone is against us.”

Berlusconi, 77, was convicted of tax fraud earlier this year after a long series of other charges and legal woes.

Italian Jewish leaders reacted with shock and anger to the comparison. A photo montage made the rounds of Facebook showing a picture of his family alongside a picture of concentration camp inmates.

“The life of the Jews of Europe under Nazism was marked by a black vortex of violence, persecution and death,” Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement. ”Any comparison with the situation of the Berlusconi family is thus not only inappropriate and unacceptable but is also an offense against the memory of those who were deprived of any rights and, after atrocious and unspeakable suffering, their very lives.”

Nichi Vendola, a leader of the left-center opposition, wrote on his Facebook page, “To trivialize a terrible tragedy like the Holocaust for everyday political polemics, as Berlusconi has, is chilling.”

Emanuele Fiano, a Jewish member of Parliament and a political opponent of Berlusconi, called the statement “an insult to history, to the six million Jews who were killed, and to those who try to impede history from being forgotten or manipulated.”

Berlusconi responded in a statement on the website of his Forza Italia party, calling the furor over his remarks “a controversy blatantly instrumental, based on a phrase extrapolated from a broader context.” He added,  “My history, my friendship toward Israel, my consistent government action at the international level in favor of the State of Israel, do not allow any doubt about my awareness of the tragedy of  the Holocaust and my respect for the Jewish people. ”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, told Berlusconi in a personal letter on Wednesday that he failed to teach his children the “lessons of their history.”

“As badly as they feel you are being treated by the courts and by Italian society,  your problems cannot at all be compared to the tragedy that befell the Jews at the hands of the genocidal Nazis,” Foxman wrote.

“It is painful for me to discover that your children have never really learned the lesson of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people, and I urge you, in friendship and out of deep respect, to begin to teach them,” the letter concluded.

What’s in a name? The false narrative of Kristallnacht


Two years ago, I was among a group of 24 young American Jews visiting a Protestant Church in Berlin to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On that night, November 9, 1938, Nazi gangs destroyed thousands of synagogues and other Jewish-owned buildings across Germany, murdered dozens and sent hundreds more to concentration camps.

At the moving, hour-long ceremony I saw over 300 Christians, young and old, remembering and commemorating the systematic persecution of Jews in Europe that eventually resulted in the murder of six million.

I learned from some of the young Germans that hundreds of such services were happening across Germany, with at least 100,000 people participating. The director of Germany Close Up, the organization that cosponsored our visit with ACCESS: AJC’s next generation program, told me that that in her small hometown in northwest Germany, 400 residents gathered on every year on November 9 to read out loud the names of all the local Jews who perished during the Holocaust. It was, she said, a statement promising that such a horror should “never again” happen in Germany, or anywhere else.

And, we were reminded that the commonly-used term “Kristallnacht” – translated as “Night of the Broken Glass” — was actually a euphemism coined by the Nazis. Stressing the broken glass, with no hint of who broke it or what it signified, sanitized an event that was actually a pogrom, similar to those committed against the Jews in Russia, Romania and elsewhere earlier in the century. In fact—to add insult to injury—Jews were held financially liable for damage caused by the “broken glass.” Thus, Pogromnacht, night of the pogrom, is now used in Germany to more accurately describe what transpired 75 years ago.

On this landmark anniversary of that night, shouldn’t  we  ask, What is in a name? Has the way we have framed this crucial turning point in Nazi policy toward the Jews distorted the true nature of that fateful evening?

Perhaps it is time to change the terminology and call it Pogromnacht, so as to indicate what truly happened – a pogrom – and to serve as a reminder that we cannot allow racists, bigots and anti-Semites to euphemize and sanitize the language of history.

Other examples of this sanitization abound today. The Golden Dawn party in Greece, which rails against immigrants, Jews, and other minorities, denies its association with neo-Nazism, despite its fascist roots and use of Nazi symbolism, literature and anthems. Thankfully, the Greek government under Prime Minister Samaras has taken a stand, seeking to deracinate the party, and the Parliament voted to suspend state funding for political parties accused of criminal activity. The fact is that anti-Semitic crimes continue in Western democracies from Malmö, Sweden to Sydney, Australia. And, just this week the European Union released the results of a survey that found over 40 percent of Jews in Belgium, France, and Hungary are considering emigrating because of rising anti-Semitism.

The constant, collective reminder of the true nature of Nazism a commitment to track and prosecute hate speech, and a ban on Holocaust denial that creates a safer society for Jews remain necessary, even if anti-Semitism can never truly be eradicated. More countries should follow the example of Germany, in strengthening their laws and in calling key historical events by their right names—like Pogramnacht. And more leaders in the Jewish community should use the historically accurate term Pogramnacht going forward; two leaders that have been convinced are AJC’s David Harris and Rabbi Noam Marans. I hope many more follow the AJC’s lead.


Eli Lipmen is Communications & Advocacy Strategist for the Department of Regional Offices of AJC – the global Jewish advocacy organization.

75 years after Kristallnacht: Time to toughen up and reclaim our memory


Seventy-five years later, the very word Kristallnacht still casts a long shadow — on Europe and on the Jewish people.

The countrywide pogrom orchestrated in 1938 by the German High Command marked the Nazi regime’s transition from the quasi-legal, anti-Jewish discrimination of the Nuremberg Laws to the coming of the Final Solution. Official statistics — 91 Jews were killed, thousands more put into concentration camps, 267 synagogues burned and 7,500 Jewish businesses vandalized — fail to capture the sheer sense of terror and impending doom that afterward enveloped German and Austrian Jews. Beyond the horrors of those nights, Jewry witnessed the overwhelming indifference and antipathy of neighbors, and of police and firemen who were deployed not to protect houses of worship, only the adjacent property of proper Aryans.

In his diary, Joseph Goebbels chortled: “As I am driven to the hotel [in Munich], windowpanes shatter. Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues burn like big old cabins.”

He and Hitler had reason to celebrate. The world didn’t give a damn about the Jews, and the path from burning hulks of shuls would lead to the ashes of mass-murdered Jews spewing forth from death camp crematoria, covered by the fog of war and buried by an indifferent humanity.

But another conflagration would soon envelop all of Europe. Cities from London to Warsaw to Leningrad were engulfed in flames by the Nazi Blitzkrieg. But by the time World War II ended, those very streets in Munich and Berlin where synagogues were torched and from where Jews were disappeared, were themselves reduced to rubble by the onslaught of Allied firebombs.

Seventy-five years later, the images of Kristallnacht are reduced to grainy photos and footage. The last of the surviving victims and victimizers, heroes and bystanders are leaving the world stage, leaving us to ponder: What, if anything, have we learned?

Is European hatred of Jews a thing of the past?

Manfred Gerstenfeld, a respected author and expert, has analyzed polls taken across the continent and estimates that at least 150 million Europeans still harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.

Do Europe’s Jews feel safe?

Twenty-five percent are afraid to wear kippot or Star of David jewelry in public. Attacks on European Jewish institutions aren’t ugly footnotes of history. While today armed police stand on guard across Europe protecting synagogues, 80 synagogues have been attacked in recent years in Germany alone. Jewish children have been targeted for bullying in Scandinavia and for insult, injury, even death on the campuses of French day schools and yeshivot.

And there is more, much more. This isn’t only about Islamist extremists for whom Jew is a dirty word. There is increasing European mainstream hate and disrespecting of Jews, their homeland and core Judaic values.

From Greece to Hungary and Ukraine, political parties increase their clout by playing the ant-Semitism card. Campaigns are under way in the mainstream of Europe’s democracies to criminalize the core Judaic mitzvot of brit milah and shechita.

And in the ultimate insult to our people — living and dead — respected European NGOs, politicians, media and prominent church leaders cast Israelis as latter-day Nazis, while protesters chanting “Death to Israel” and “Jews to the Ovens” went unchallenged. Meanwhile, anti-Israel ideologues audaciously hijack Holocaust commemoration and education. How bad can it get? At the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht commemoration, Norwegian authorities —“not wanting any trouble” — forbade any Jewish symbols, including the Star of David and the Israeli flag, from being displayed. The evening news showed a group of Jews attempting to join the commemoration being firmly told by a policeman to “please leave the area.”

This Kristallnacht we must start by reclaiming memory.

On Oct. 24, I was part of a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. In his exchange with the pope, my colleague and mentor, Wiesenthal Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier offered this insight into the dual dimensions of Jewish memory. He quoted Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (“Fate and Destiny”), “Evil is an undeniable fact. …  It exists, and I will neither deny it nor camouflage it.” Rabbi Hier added, “Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time.”

That is the reason why, Soloveitchik teaches us, the Torah has two ways of expressing memory. One is positive, zachor, to remember, reach out, dialogue, to find common ground.  The other dimension is negative, lo tishkach, do not forget to act when you are dealing with evil.

Here are three points that can help us protect and nurture the memory and lessons of the Shoah.

First: Memo to European leaders: If you don’t respect live Jews, don’t join our minyan mourning 6 million dead Jews.

Second: Stop de-Judaizing the Nazi Holocaust. The Shoah is not an abstract idea. Anne Frank and 6 million of her brethren were murdered by the Nazis and their European collaborators — only because she and they were Jews. Public memorials and teaching modules omitting this truth desecrate the dead.

Third: We Jews have to toughen up. Accepting the status quo in Europe is demeaning and only emboldens the bigots on the street and in the halls of parliaments. This is an area where younger Jews on both sides of the Atlantic must take a stand. Going on vacation to Paris, Rome or London? Make a point of publicly showing you are a proud Jew. And you don’t have to eat kosher to understand that Norway’s law banning kosher slaughter since 1929 is an insult to every Jew. How about a social networking campaign to shame them to action?

2013 is not 1938. But, we Jews dare not repeat the mistakes of the 1930s by pinning our hopes that Europe’s leaders will do the heavy lifting to defend our rights. Only we can secure our dignity. 

As Simon Wiesenthal himself often said: “Freedom is not a gift from heaven. It must be fought for every day.” Zachor, lo tiskhach.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

Herschel Grynszpan: ‘The Boy Avenger’


Like stills from a film noir, the black-and-white photographs of a 17-year-old boy named Herschel Grynszpan that have come down to us — police mug shots, newspaper photos, a souvenir snapshot taken at a Paris street fair — capture the various faces that he presented to the public during the fall of 1938, when he boiled up out of a noisy Jewish neighborhood in a backwater of Paris and demanded the attention of the astonished world.

L’affaire Grynszpan, as his case came to be known, starts with a single act of violence behind the locked gates of the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938, when he fired five shots at a Nazi diplomat. Nowadays, when Grynszpan is remembered at all, it is because the Nazis seized upon the assassination as a pretext for Kristallnacht, the pogrom that marked the sudden and ominous escalation in Hitler’s war against the Jews. But it is also a story replete with shock and scandal, mystery and perplexity.  

Precisely what transpired inside the ornate German embassy in Paris on that day remains a puzzlement, but even more baffling is the black hole of history into which Grynszpan has fallen since the end of World War II. Herschel Grynszpan was briefly famous, and it was his fame — or, as the Nazis saw it, his infamy — that accounts for the trove of historical detail that is available to us today. We know how much he weighed, how tall he was, and how much money his family received in welfare payments because he was investigated by both French and German police officers, and he was examined by physicians, psychiatrists and social workers in the service of the French criminal courts and later by their counterparts in Nazi Germany, all in the greatest and most intimate detail. Grynszpan, still only an adolescent, was questioned by the famously efficient interrogators of the Gestapo and even by Adolf Eichmann, a self-styled expert on Jewish affairs in the Nazi bureaucracy and one of the masterminds of the Final Solution.

Today, however, Grynszpan remains a mystery, an irony if only because Grynszpan was among the most famous inmates of the Nazi concentration camp system. Perhaps the most vexing aspect of the Grynszpan case is the fact that he has never been embraced as the heroic figure he earnestly sought to be. His fellow Jews, suffering through the catastrophic aftermath of his act of protest at the German embassy in Paris, “generally disapproved of it as useless, dangerous and a great disservice to Jews everywhere,” according to Gerald Schwab, one of the principal investigators of the Grynszpan case. One of Grynszpan’s own attorneys, richly paid to defend him in the French courts, dismissed him privately as “that absurd little Jew.” Hannah Arendt pronounced him to be “a psychopath” and, even more shockingly, accused him of serving as an agent of the Gestapo. Jewish armed resistance against Nazi Germany is much studied and celebrated, but Grynszpan remains without honor even among the people whose avenger he imagined himself to be.

The effacement of Herschel Grynszpan, who wrote and spoke so ardently about his deed to lawyers, judges, politicians and reporters in the months and years following his arrest, would have broken the boy’s heart. His prison journals, which were carefully preserved and studied by both French and German authorities, reveal that the lonely and frightened adolescent yearned not merely for attention but for a place of consequence in the saga of the Jewish people. “He thought the only end to isolation was to reach the point where he was no longer separated from the true struggles that went on around him,” writes Don DeLillo of Lee Harvey Oswald in the novel “Libra,” but the same words surely apply to Grynszpan. “The name we give to this point is history.”

As we observe the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we ought to pause and recall the 17-year-old boy who was among the very first Jews to fire a weapon in defense of the Jewish people during those dark years. “For three lines in history that will be written about the youth who fought and did not go like sheep to the slaughter,” insisted the martyred ghetto fighter Dolek Liebeskind, “it is even worth dying.” Yet the search to find examples of Jewish resistance has failed to acknowledge the exploits of Herschel Grynszpan.

At the end of the short, strange and turbulent life of Herschel Grynszpan — a life tainted by rumors of sexual scandal for which Herschel himself was the source — we are left with two ineradicable facts. Only weeks after the prime ministers of England and France had trembled before Hitler in Munich, Grynszpan walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot a Nazi diplomat, an “act of counter-violence” in explicit protest against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. And, three years later, the same young man, alone and abandoned in a Gestapo cell in Berlin, succeeded in denying his Nazi captors the opportunity to justify the mass murder of the Jewish people in the show trial they had planned for him.

For these two acts of courage and defiance, the young man paid with his life. If Jewish armed resistance deserves more than “three lines in history,” then we are obliged to remember Herschel Grynszpan and to regard him as the hero he sought to be. 


Jonathan Kirsch is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. Excerpted from “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” by Jonathan Kirsch. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Kirsch. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corp. 

Austria honors Bikel


Theodore Meir Bikel and his parents peeked through the drawn curtains of their Vienna apartment watching the street below, where Adolf Hitler, standing in his limousine, slowly rolled by, cheered on by frenzied crowds.

It was March 15, 1938, and Hitler formally announced that Nazi Germany had annexed Austria, changing forever the life of that nation’s Jews, as well as that of 13-year-old Theo.

During an interview at his West Los Angeles home, Bikel was preparing for a trip to Austria to appear, on Nov. 7, on the rostrum of the Austrian Parliament Building before an audience of the country’s highest government and cultural leaders to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were put to the torch.

Historians generally mark this event as the forerunner, if not the beginning, of the Holocaust.

Bikel was going to accept Austria’s highest honor in the arts and to perform an hour-long concert of mainly Yiddish songs, interspersed with a few numbers in English and German.

For the finale, Bikel planned to sing “The Song of the Partisans,” in Yiddish, asking the distinguished audience to rise as he rendered the powerful words and notes of the anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.

The irony and meaning of the occasion is not lost on Bikel. “The Nazi criminals are gone; I am still here,” he said.

“I think I was created for this occasion,” Bikel said of the Vienna commemoration.

That is saying a lot for a man who, during a 70-year career, has distinguished himself as an actor and folksinger on stage, screen and television, as well as an author, raconteur, union leader, advocate for the arts, and a champion of Soviet Jewry and human rights.

Of his many roles, Bikel said he most cherishes that of folksinger, presenting “the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

Growing up in a strongly Zionist home, he was an only child, named in honor of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. By coincidence, the two men also share the same birthday.

After leaving Vienna, the Bikel family settled in Tel Aviv, while Theo spent two years at an agricultural school, aspiring to the Zionist ideal of working the land. He then joined the Kfar HaMaccabi kibbutz, “but it soon became obvious that my talents lay elsewhere,” he observed wryly.

The kibbutz management came to the same conclusion and sent him to a three-week training course for actors, in Tel Aviv.

After his first taste of the limelight, “there was no turning back,” Bikel said, and he was admitted to the Habima Theatre school.

The man who was to gain international fame as Tevye in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” got his first paying role in the stage play of “Tevye and his Daughters.”

He played the Russian constable who warns the shtetl’s Jews that they better get out before the next pogrom. For his 29-word dialogue, Bikel received the equivalent of $5 per show.

Bikel’s Vienna trip was praised by the White House, through its Jewish liaison, Mathew S. Nosanchuk. “I cannot think of a better emissary to carry a message of hope, perseverance and survival — on behalf of the Jewish people — to Austria, as the world marks these dark days,” Nosanchuk wrote. “You are the living embodiment of Jewish art and culture.”

Interviewed two days before flying to Vienna with his companion Aimee Ginsburg, Bikel, at 89, clearly had no thoughts of retirement — he is currently in the midst of producing and starring in the documentary film “Theodore Bikel in the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.”

As for his general health, while he hasn’t escaped the aches and pains of advancing age, he firmly proclaims, “I still retain the same mental vigor, the same energy and the same curiosity.”

But just in case, he has already planned the inscription for his tombstone: “He Was the Singer of His People” — in Yiddish.

Kristallnacht, honored musically


On Nov. 9, music by Samuel Adler, Steve Reich, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl will observe the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht as part of the enterprising Jacaranda concert series. 

Kristallnacht was the night in 1938 when the Nazis launched a two-day pogrom throughout Germany. Jews were beaten and murdered; synagogues were burned, Jewish stores ransacked. Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night” or “Night of Broken Glass”) was the tipping point of the Holocaust.

“The subject of the Holocaust really burrowed into my soul,” Patrick Scott, Jacaranda’s artistic director and co-founder, said by phone from his office. “Even if few people attend, there’s no way I wouldn’t do something for such an important anniversary.”

Scott wondered if he would have received more support if the program were instead presented at a synagogue rather than at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, but added, “This dimension is exactly what makes it special — the fact that it’s taking place in a church.”

“Does the Holocaust belong exclusively to the Jews? I hope not,” said Jonathan Kirsch, author of “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” the story of the young man blamed for igniting Kristallnacht (for an excerpt, see p. 18.) “The Holocaust is an event that affects everybody and should be present in everyone’s minds. And a Holocaust remembrance, whether it’s about Kristallnacht or something else, is entirely appropriate to take place in a church or mosque or synagogue or secular venue.”

Kristallnacht was deemed a failure by the Nazis. “It’s that turning point where they realized they couldn’t  chase the Jews out, and they couldn’t kill the Jews in place, because it was inefficient and destructive of German property,” Kirsch said. “But if you put them on trains and took them to the swamps of Eastern Poland, where nobody was watching, you could murder them by the millions.” 

The central piece on Jacaranda’s program is Reich’s Grammy-winning, 1988 “Different Trains” for string quartet and tape, which will be performed by the Lyris Quartet. One of the most powerful musical statements ever composed about the Holocaust, the score’s three movements literally give voice to the past.

The score was initially inspired by train trips Reich took as a child, traveling between the homes of his divorced parents, who lived in New York and California.

“The first movement is about my childhood,” Reich said. “It has nothing to do with the Holocaust. In fact, I didn’t even think the Holocaust would be part of the piece. But when I made those trips across the country, I thought, ‘What years did I do that? In 1937, ’38, ’39.’ If I had been born in Europe and not in America, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

In the first movement, Reich used recordings of his former governess, Virginia, and Mr. Davis, a retired Pullman porter. “As they reminisced about their lives, I took their speech melody,” Reich said. “In the case of a woman, I give it to the viola; a man, I give it to the cello. Then I thought, ‘What if I were to find Holocaust survivors on tape and then do the exact same thing?’ “

The score, commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the late Betty Freeman, an influential Los Angeles-based patron of contemporary composers, uses the voices of three Holocaust survivors in the middle movement, with all five coming together in the third, because the survivors came to America.

Technically, Reich said, the work was “unbelievably difficult” to prepare. “It was totally unlike anything I’d ever done before,” he said. “One of the rules I made for myself was, as they speak, so I write. And people don’t speak at the same tempo or in the same key, so I had to choose things that made sense musically.”

Reich said he chose people who not only had incredible stories, but who also had a musical tone of voice. “I’m a composer, and it’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it,” Reich said. “The people who spoke had very melodic voices.”

Jacaranda will present the 2006 digital restoration of “Different Trains.” “The recordings of Holocaust survivors were done from a Yale archive on cheap cassette recorders from the 1970s,” Reich said. “They’re pretty funky, but they’ve been cleaned up, and it’s better than it was.”

Scott said he plans to include the libretto in the program book.

The Jacaranda program begins with Adler’s Canto XIV “Klezmer Fantasy.” After intermission, Mark Alan Hilt, Jacaranda’s co-founder, conducts three a cappella choruses by Schoenberg and concludes with Zeisl’s moving “Hebrew Requiem,” a setting of the 92nd Psalm for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra.

Composed in 1944-45 in memory of his father and other relatives lost in the death camps, the “Requiem” is among the earliest pieces written about the Holocaust.   

“It’s an affirmative, triumphant piece,” said Hilt, “with everybody singing full out at the end. The themes are beautiful, and Zeisl’s inscription on the score speaks of ‘consolation rather than sadness.’”

Indeed, Hilt ‘s comment goes a long way toward countering Scott’s worry that such a program may seem like a downer. “I hope people will feel they had an experience and will be better for it,” Scott said.

Calendar: October 26-November 1


SAT | OCT 26

“A CELEBRATION OF HAROLD PINTER”

John Malkovich and Julian Sands collaborate on a personal and unusual tribute to one of the most influential British dramatists of the 20th century. The Nobel Prize-winning playwright is responsible for “Betrayal,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” “Sleuth” and much more. Sands, who knew Pinter personally, captures the opinionated and enigmatic author in this intimately directed portrait. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $47-$75. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. SUN | OCT 27

BALABOOSTA: POP-UP DINNER WITH CHEF ADMONY

One word: Yum. Join renowned Israeli-born chef and author Einat Admony, owner of New York’s acclaimed Balaboosta restaurant, as she cooks a Middle East-inspired pop-up dinner at the ultra-cool downtown grocer Urban Radish. You’ll get a casual family-style dinner with dishes inspired by Admony’s Israeli heritage (Yemenite and Persian) from her new cookbook “Balaboosta,” seamlessly blended with the fresh, sophisticated Mediterranean palate she honed while working in some of New York City’s most beloved kitchens. Sun. 6-8 p.m.  $65 (limited tickets). Urban Radish, 661 Imperial St., Los Angeles. (213) 892-1570. ” target=”_blank”>aju.edu.

“SILENT WITNESSES”

It’s closing night and your last chance to see this moving piece of theater. Time can be just as revealing as it is healing for a group of women who all, in their own way, survived the Holocaust. When they meet each other in a group therapy session, it is used as an opportunity to share. Decades since their respective escapes, these women finally speak about vanished loved ones, privation and sorrow, but also compassionate Christian families and triumphs. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $20. The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (800) 838-3006. TUE | OCT 29

“THE VISIONARY: THE LIFE OF RABBI BEN ZION MEIR HAI UZIEL”

This film biography of Israel’s first Sephardic Chief Rabbi is part of the Sephardic Education Center’s Fall Lecture Series. After the screening, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila will lead a short discussion about the film’s journey through the pre-state yishuv and Israel’s early years. Come and experience the Sephardic philosophy of tradition, modernity and unity. Refreshments will be served. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. Must RSVP. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 272-4574. WED | OCT 30

“THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF KRISTALLNACHT”

The Whizin Center for Continuing Education presents a special program to commemorate that destructive November night 75 years ago. In addition to a docent talk about AJU’s Rare Book Center, Journal Book Editor Jonathan Kirsch will be speaking on his new book “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, A Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris.” Michael Berenbaum will moderate the program, which will also include German synagogue music and light refreshments. Wed. 7 p.m. $20. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. ” target=”_blank”>mutantdiaries.com/la.

“LIFE IN BALANCE”

How much right do we have to our body? And where do the Torah, the Talmud and modern medicine meet? The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and the Beverly Hills Jewish Academy are organizing a community awareness workshop series on how Jewish law views the modern-day medical dilemma. Tonight’s first class, “Safeguarding Our Health,” looks at issues surrounding the BRCA genetic mutation in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Wed. 8 p.m. Free. 9401 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1250, Beverly Hills. (310) 734-9070. FRI | NOV 1

“SAY THE WORD: GET IT TOGETHER”

Beth Lapides hosts a night of comedy writers and comedians as they share stories of weddings, funerals, graduations, birthday parties and those special events that aren’t as easily categorized. Tim Bagley, Kevin Nealon, Merrill Markoe, Dan Levy, Carlos Kotkin and Wendy Liebman gather to flesh out all the juicy details. Cocktails and snacks available for purchase. Fri. 8 p.m. $15 (general), $10 (members), $8 (students). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Kristallnacht family Torah reaches new generation


It was the “Night of Broken Glass” in Germany, Kristallnacht — a national pogrom of death and destruction of Jewish property and the rounding up of Jews — and Dietrich (David) Hamburger was in hiding.

Hamburger was the leader of a small congregation that met in his home in Fürstenau, a countryside village in what now is the state of Niedersachsen, or Lower Saxony. Someone had warned him about the coming onslaught, and on Nov. 9, 1938, he went into hiding in the local Catholic hospital.

“The cover story was that he was in for a hernia,” said Edith Strauss Kodmur, his granddaughter and the family’s historian.

This spring — 75 years later and a continent away at a California winery — Kodmur’s granddaughter will have her bat mitzvah. And Charlotte Ruth Smith on that day will read from the Torah scroll that her great-great-grandfather rescued soon after that tragic night.

But Hamburger would need to escape Germany and the Torah would need to find its way back to his family.

“By prior arrangement, one of his hired hands met him in the hospital garden while the nuns were at Mass,” Kodmur recalled from detailed notes. “He drove -Dietrich back to his home, where he packed, taking an oil portrait of wife Rosa [he was a widower] and the community Torah with him.”

Kodmur thought Hamburger had removed the rollers, or etz chaim, to make the Torah easier to transport.

“He then boarded the train to Holland, to Winterswijk, to his daughter Bette,” said Kodmur, whose family as well as her uncle Siegfried, Hamburger’s son, had left Germany for the United States in 1938.

Kodmur as a small child had visited her grandfather frequently, she said, recalling that he would sit in the garden with his children on the Sabbath, reading to them and discussing the Bible.

“He was very adventuresome, and well-dressed. Involved with the horse and cattle trade business,” she said.

A memorial book for the Holocaust victims of Winterswijk titled “We Once Knew Them All” uses quotes from the people who lived in the eastern Holland town to tell what happened to Hamburger and his family.

“My parents had a Jewish person in hiding during the last year of the war, a Mr. Hamburger. We called him by his alias, ‘Uncle Derk,’ ” a community member recalls in the book. “His daughter, son-in-law and their children died in the concentration camps. He also had a son in America.

“Once we were threatened by a posting of German soldiers at our home. Uncle Derk hid behind a wardrobe. Obviously we noticed that Mr. Hamburger was very afraid of being discovered. My Father told Uncle Derk to act differently, otherwise everyone might be arrested.

“On the morning of liberation, I woke up Uncle Derk. He was so shaken by my excited talk that his false teeth fell out: into the chamber pot!”

From another community member: “Father Hamburger stayed a while in Winterswijk after the war. My, my how that man cried over his grandchildren.”

After the war, while Siegfried was visiting his father in Holland, Hamburger gave him the Torah scroll to bring back to his home in Redwood City, Calif. It stayed there until Siegfried died.

Kodmur, who lives in the San Diego area, knew that Siegfried had given the Torah to his son Steven. But she had lost touch with that part of the family and was uncertain of its whereabouts.

In 1996, Kodmur’s daughter Julie Ann and her fiancé, Stuart Smith, attended a pre-wedding counseling session with Rabbi Jerry Winston in San Anselmo, Calif. The rabbi mentioned that he had officiated at the marriage of Julie Ann’s cousin.

Julie Ann had heard the stories of her great-grandfather’s escape with the Torah and its unknown whereabouts, and in the whirr of Jewish geography and family history that ensued, both Julie Ann and Winston soon realized that Steven Hamburger had given the rescued Torah to the rabbi.

“I didn’t even think to ask him for it,” said Julie Ann, thinking back on that meeting.

In 2000, Winston officiated at the baby naming for her daughter Charlotte, but Julie Ann and the rabbi would lose touch.

It was more than a decade later, when Julie Ann began thinking about her daughter’s bat mitzvah, that her thoughts again turned to the Torah. Beginning a search last year, she soon discovered that Winston had died and the small congregation he led had disbanded. Could he have given the Torah to another synagogue?

She called the big synagogue in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin County, Rodef Shalom; the historic synagogue in San Francisco, Temple Emanu-El; and many others, leaving messages. Then she received a call back.

“The woman had a German accent and said she was a friend of Rabbi Winston’s. She told me that his sons had given the Torah away, to Rabbi Alan Levinson of Sausalito,” remembered Julie Ann, who lives with her husband, Stuart, and Charlotte in the small town of St. Helena, Calif., near the family-owned Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery.

After contacting Levinson, who had been a longtime friend of Winston’s, they quickly exchanged what each knew of the provenance of the scroll. It was the one. “His plan was to give it to another synagogue,” Julie Ann said.

Meanwhile, Julie Ann also was looking for a rabbi to prepare Charlotte for her bat mitzvah. She connected with Rabbi Jerry Levy, who worked with students via Skype. She had known Levy growing up in San Diego; he had been the rabbi at her brother David’s bar mitzvah.

Levy also was the chaplain at AlmaVia, a faith-based elder care community in San Rafael, Calif., where, according to the rabbi, 18 to 20 of the 120 residents are Jewish. Julie Ann inquired if Levinson would consider giving the Torah to Levy for use in his community. Levinson agreed and this month, Levy held a dedication at AlmaVia.

With Levinson, Julie Ann and Charlotte present — she helped roll the scroll to the correct reading — the scroll to be known as the Hamburger/Fürstenau Torah was dedicated.

“They were kvelling,” said Levy of the AlmaVia residents on hand.

Speaking at the ceremony, Charlotte recounted her great-great-grandfather’s escape on Kristallnacht and the Torah’s travels.

“We found it, and not only would I be able to use it for my bat mitzvah, we could give it a home here at AlmaVia,” she said.

“This coming spring, I will borrow the Torah from all of you here at AlmaVia for my bat mitzvah. And the story will continue.”

Loyola marymount commemorates Kristallnacht


On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, brown-shirted storm troopers torched and looted hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria in what is known as Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.”

On Nov. 8, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), founded by Jesuits, will host its annual citywide commemoration of the Nazi pogrom, which many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust. At LMU’s Westchester campus, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin will give an address titled “Why the Jews? Ethical, Spiritual and Historical Lessons.” 

This is the sixth year that LMU has sponsored a Kristallnacht commemoration, part of the Catholic university’s long-standing ties with the Jewish community and its scholarly interest in Jewish studies.

Among the initiators of the commemoration was William Elperin, president of The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants that is underwriting the event.

“It seemed to me then, and even more now, that it is really important to teach the Holocaust to non-Jewish students at a non-Jewish university,” Elperin said. “It is really not productive to preach only to the choir.”

Indicative of the LMU leadership’s philo-Judaic outlook is its support of a full-scale Jewish studies program, under the direction of professor Holli Levitsky, and the recent appointment of the first full-time rabbi, Ilana Schachter, as campus coordinator of Jewish Student Life and Hillel rabbi.

Levitsky regularly leads her mostly non-Jewish students in her course “Holocaust in Poland” on a summer trip to key Polish cities and Auschwitz. Two student projects that grew out of this past summer’s trip, a creative dance and an original composition, will be performed at the Kristallnacht commemoration.

Following will be the talk by Telushkin, author of a dozen books on ethics, Jewish history, humor and mysteries. Cantor Sam Radwine will open the ceremony, Cantor Leopold Szneer will conclude it, and a kosher reception will follow.

LMU’s friendly relationship with the Jewish community goes back a long way. Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920, which set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.

Currently, enrollment of Jewish students on the Westchester campus runs 250 to 300, or roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of the total number of 9,852 undergraduate and graduate students.

Because only students who specifically register as “Jewish” are counted as such, it is a fair guess that there are more than the official count reflects, Schachter said.

No exact figures are available for Jewish faculty members at LMU, or for Jewish student enrollment at the affiliated downtown Loyola Law School, but the general assumption is that the percentages are considerably higher.

Schachter, 28 and a graduate of the local Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in an interview that the Catholic majority at the university shares the Jewish values of social justice and devotion to learning, and joins in the celebration of Jewish events.

 “There is an advantage to being at a relatively small college, where we tend to share things,” Schachter said. “For instance, celebrations of Jewish holidays are sponsored by the general Student Union, and during Sukkot, we had our Sukkah right in the middle of the campus.”

Much of extracurricular life at LMU revolves around service organizations, in which students of all faiths work together, such as this Friday’s Shabbat, devoted to fighting global hunger.

In return, Schachter officiates as chaplain at one of the Catholic service groups and said she enjoys “learning about Catholic tradition.”

LMU also has a sizable Muslim student population, but there have been no anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, in contrast to what has taken place at a number of California public universities.

 “We’re not a politically active campus,” Schachter said. “I am sure that feelings about Israel vary, but we have had no confrontations.”

Levitsky and Schachter jointly administer, and are equally excited by, a project tackling a frustrating problem shared by Jewish activists at every university — how to get uninvolved Jewish students to become more involved in Jewish programs.

Underwriting the effort is a $10,000 Student Engagement Fellowship Grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Goals of the program are to determine the needs of unaffiliated Jewish students and on that basis develop accessible and relevant Jewish campus experiences and events attractive to those students.

The Kristallnacht commemoration on Nov. 8 will start at 7 p.m. in the Roski Dining Room of University Hall. For parking, enter the LMU campus at the main entrance off Lincoln Boulevard.

The public is invited, and there is no admission charge, but reservations are required.

For more information, visit lmu.edu.

Austrian politician slammed for comparing protests to Kristallnacht


The leader of an Austrian far-right political party was condemned for comparing protests by students in Vienna with the Nazi persecution of Jews during Kristallnacht.

The Anti-Defamation League on Monday slammed the comments made Jan. 27 by Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache in response to heckling from leftist and radical protesters outside the Wiener Korporations-Ball in Vienna.

Strache was overheard by a reporter for the daily Der Standard comparing the protests to Kristallnacht and saying “we are the new Jews.” In addition, a Strache associate reportedly said that “whoever works for this ball immediately gets a Jew star pinned on him.”

Some 2,600 demonstrators were protesting that the ball, which was organized by Strache’s far-right Freedom Party, was held on the same day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement that “Strache mocked the victims of the Holocaust by comparing himself and his fellow extremists to Jews and invoking Kristallnacht to complain about the anti-fascist protests.”

Foxman added that “this trivialization is outrageous, but not surprising from Strache and his ilk. The victims of the Holocaust are entitled to respect and sympathy, which was shown around the world at commemorations of the greatest act of genocide.”

According to the ADL statement, the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party—Austria’s governing coalition parties—both strongly condemned the statements made by Strache.

Vienna’s Jewish community called on the state prosecutor to launch an investigation into the comments, according to reports.

Belarus synagogue vandalized again


A synagogue in eastern Belarus was vandalized for the second time.

The windows of the synagogue, located in the city of Babruysk, were smashed in early Monday morning, Radio Free Europe reported.

On Nov. 11, the day after commemorations around the world for Kristallnacht, a swastika and the words “Death to Jews” was painted on the synagogue’s fence.

About 50 people, most of them elderly, belong to the synagogue, the synagogue’s secretary, Maya Savatseyeva, told Radio Free Europe.

Kristallnacht without my father


This is the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the first one I will mark without my father.  Kristallnacht is referred to as the “night of broken glass.” But it was much more. It was the beginning of the end of most of European Jewry. It was two days of Nazi government-sponsored riots on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, in Germany and Austria. Reported numbers vary, but about 270 synagogues were burned, 7,000 businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed, and 100 Jews were killed. Between 26,000 and 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps. My father was one of them. A 16-year-old boy living in Niederstetten, Germany, he was arrested on November 10 and sent to Dachau.

My father died this past July and, in mourning his loss, I’ve thought about how the Holocaust will be remembered, or if it will be remembered at all.  Survivors of the Shoah are dying each day, and how can the next generations remember something they haven’t experienced?

One way is to tell our stories. On Pesach we tell the story of our slavery in Egypt and liberation from bondage. There are Yom HaShoah services, memoirs by survivors, and organizations working to keep the stories alive. Children who are of the age to go to the services will be the last to meet survivors.  The telling of the Holocaust is not just for survivors, it is for all of us – a part of the ongoing Jewish story.

Another is to take action.  There is a midrash, a rabbinic commentary that says when the Jews were freed from Egypt and about to cross the Red Sea they were afraid to go in.  Only one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, marched into the water, and when it reached his nose, the sea split, allowing the people to cross. Judaism does not want us to stand idly by.  We must act, we must have the courage to jump in and make a difference.  It is up to each of us to find a way to contribute towards a more just society.

I don’t believe there are lessons to be learned from the Holocaust − that some people were good while others were evil, and that we can learn life lessons from those who died.  Six million are gone.  The only lesson is to ensure that another Holocaust does not happen again, to anyone, anywhere in the world.

We also have an obligation to remember the victims and to make certain that their stories are not lost − not just the stories of the horrors, but about life before the Shoah and the extraordinary efforts of the survivors to begin new lives. The poet Cornelius Eady says that poets write to navigate their way in the world.  I wrote How to Spot One of Us, a collection of poems about the Holocaust and my family.  My writing and teaching have helped me to navigate as I grapple with the Shoah and its legacy.

In the aftermath of such horrific events, there are no easy answers. Most of the time I’m left trying to understand something that cannot be explained. My parents (my mother is a survivor as well) showed me that, as hard as the struggle is, it’s better to live a life filled with love and faith in the future than a life of anger and hate.

My father taught me many things: how to ride a bicycle, change a tire, about his life in Germany before the Shoah, and about how to live after such tragedy.  But the most important thing he taught me was that life goes on and every day is precious.  Each year, on Kristallnacht, my father told his story.  It is now my turn.

Tracking a Warsaw ghetto fighter


I met Leon Weinstein, hale and hearty at 101, three months ago and listened to his dramatic recollections as a fighter and survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the bravest chapters in modern Jewish history.

By normal journalistic practice, the article should have been written within a week. It took me much longer to verify the story, to discover, in the process, how controversial the battles of 1943 are to this day and to gain new respect for the complexities of historical research. The unplanned delay may have been fortuitous, putting publication of this article over to the week commemorating Kristallnacht. Many experts consider the Nov. 9 Nazi rampage against German Jews to be the overture to the Holocaust and to the horror to come, from the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz.

It is no longer considered a miracle to pass the century mark, but few manage to do so with the humor and retentiveness of Weinstein.  Sitting in his daughter’s comfortable home in Hancock Park, Weinstein talked of growing up in the village of Radzymin, 12 miles from Warsaw, with seven siblings and an extended family of 90, most of whom perished in Treblinka.

Weinstein was always the wild one of the clan and was such a talented soccer player that he was asked to join the resident Polish Catholic team, a rare “honor” for a Jew.

He also became an ardent member of Betar, the Zionist youth group of the right-wing Revisionist movement, founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky.

At 15, he walked to Warsaw, became a tailor’s apprentice, by 18 he was foreman at a clothing factory and in the same year joined the Polish army.

Soon after his marriage to Sima, the Nazis invaded Poland, in September 1939, and the young couple was confined to the Jewish enclave in his hometown. One year later, their daughter, Natasha Leya, was born.

When Weinstein learned inadvertently from a German guard that all of his hometown’s Jews were to be deported in a few days, he took his wife and daughter to Warsaw, hoping to survive in the big city.

This proved impossible with a baby in tow, and, in a desperate move, the parents bundled up the blond, blue-eyed, 18-month-old girl on a cold December day and left her on the doorsteps of a childless Christian lawyer and his wife.

“I put a crucifix on a necklace around her neck,” Weinstein recounted, “and pinned a note on her saying, ‘I’m a war widow and can no longer take care of her. I beg you, good people, please take care of her, in the name of Jesus Christ, and he will take care of you for this deed.’”

From a distance he watched as the lawyer picked up the baby, read the note, and then walked half a block to a police station to leave Natasha there.

Sima then went into hiding, and Weinstein, after fighting with partisans in the forest, thought he would find shelter in the Warsaw ghetto.

When the ghetto resistance groups rose in April 1943, the first urban revolt in Nazi-

occupied Europe, Weinstein said he alternated between smuggling guns into the ghetto, and then using the rifles and grenades to fight the Germans.

When the ghetto fell after 27 days of murderous fighting, Weinstein and six comrades escaped through the Warsaw sewers to the “Aryan” side and hid with a Polish family until the city was liberated, he recounted.

Not wasting any time on celebrations, Weinstein got a bicycle and started a six-month search for the daughter he had left behind.

Warsaw was a sea of rubble, but, amazingly, the police station where Natasha had been left was still standing. An officer remembered that the baby had been taken to a convent. There, the nuns recalled that most of their charges had died during a typhus epidemic, but that Natasha had survived and been transferred to another convent.

The story was the same at other convents, and after visiting 10 of them, Weinstein was ready to give up. He decided to try one more, near the site of the destroyed ghetto, and there he found the now 4-year-old girl, identifiable by a birthmark on her hip.

However, his search for her mother, Sima, was fruitless. She had disappeared, but no one knew when or where.

Weinstein remarried after meeting Sophie, a Holocaust survivor. Their son, Michael, would die in a car crash in 1993. Sophie lived until 2005, when she succumbed to heart disease.

After seven postwar years, with stays in Poland, Germany and France, Weinstein decided he’d had enough of Europe; in 1953, the family traveled by ship to the United States and joined an aunt living in Los Angeles.

Weinstein established a factory in Hollywood designing and manufacturing sweaters. Natasha, now Natalie, was 13 when she arrived in Los Angeles, and one of her first jobs was to babysit a boy named Zev Yaroslavsky, today a Los Angeles County supervisor.

Natalie grew up to become a clinical social worker, after earning degrees at California State University, Long Beach, and USC. She has two adult children from her first marriage, to Alan Gold. She subsequently married Jack Lumar, who died in 1999.

Now 71, but looking at least a decade younger, Natalie is her father’s caretaker and closest companion; she accompanies him to services at Congregation Etz Chaim, and to the numerous events honoring his life and courage.

I was intrigued and impressed by Weinstein’s story and had no reason to question it. Yet, I felt a professional urge to check out his main wartime recollections. I figured that we all tend to romanticize our pasts as the years pass, and was I was wary because a number of celebrated Holocaust memoirs had proved to be fakes.

It would be simple, I thought, to establish, at a minimum, that Weinstein had been a ghetto fighter and to obtain authoritative background material on the number of fighters, how many survived and how many were still living.

My initial list of likely sources included, locally, noted Holocaust scholars Michael Berenbaum of American Jewish University and Aaron Breitbart of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. While both provided helpful background material, neither had any actual data on Weinstein.

The same held true for researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

If not in the United States, I assumed that surely there would be complete archives in Israel. Fortunately, there exists a Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum (Beit Lohamei Haghetaot) in northern Israel, dedicated specifically to commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

In addition, there were the vast archives of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, so I e-mailed and phoned both institutions.

As I waited day after day for answers and continued to repeat my requests, I began to worry that the Israeli aversion to returning phone or written inquiries had not changed much since I lived in the country in 1948 and again in the early 1960s.

However, I did find out that two key outside advisers to the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum were prominent Holocaust experts: professor Israel Gutman of Yad Vashem and professor Hanna Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University.

I tried to reach them directly, and through contacts at their institutions, but all inquiries disappeared into a black hole.

Fortunately, thanks to my wife’s vast Israeli mishpachah, and through personal newspaper colleagues, I had some well-placed contacts in Israel, who, being there and speaking fluent Hebrew, might succeed where I failed.

So I reached out to my wife’s brother-in-law, professor David Gaatone of Tel Aviv University, and then another relative, professor Tuvia Friling, Israel’s former state archivist, and finally an old Jerusalem Post buddy, Abraham Rabinovich, author of the definitive book on the Yom Kippur War.

Thanks to their efforts, I started to get a trickle of responses, complemented by a lucky break.

Moshe Arens, Israel’s former defense and foreign affairs minister, is a veteran leader of the Revisionist movement and its Herut and Likud successor parties in Israel. I learned that he had studied the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising closely, but I didn’t know how to reach him.

However, I knew that he wrote a regular column for the Haaretz newspaper, so I e-mailed the paper’s opinion-page editor, who passed on my request to Arens. The latter replied within a day that he was coming out with a book on the ghetto revolt and would like to pose some specific questions to Weinstein.

Around the same time, thanks to Rabinovich’s persistence, Yossi Shavit, the archive director of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, got in touch with me. All along, I was poring over books and Googling documents, so after two months, some of the pieces were beginning to fall into place.

One early revelation (to me) was that there were two main, separate Jewish organizations — and a couple of minor ones — fighting the Nazis in the ghetto, based on the left- and right-wing loyalties of the Zionist youth organizations of the time. Apparently, to this day, adherents of these ideologies are loath to credit the “other” side with its contributions to the battle.

Shavit, the archivist, provided some important data backing Weinstein’s main claim.

One was a picture of a decorative teapot in the Ghetto Fighters Museum collection, which was given by Weinstein to Helena Burchacka, a Polish woman, to sell and, with the money, buy food for Weinstein.

Burchacka, who after the war was designated a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, is also cited in a Hebrew-language book, “Memory Calls,” by Benjamin Anolik.

In the book, Burchacka states that when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising started, Weinstein hid in a bunker for several weeks and then escaped through the sewers to the “Aryan” side.

Shavit added as a personal note, “I do not discount the possibility that Mr. Weinstein was a fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It must be remembered that many fighters fell and that those who survived reorganized along the lines of the youth movements to which they had belonged before the uprising. The preexisting arguments and old rivalries continued for many years after the war, and it is possible that Mr. Weinstein was omitted or forgotten by those who wrote the histories.

“I myself have been privileged to meet some of the fighters who didn’t belong to the mainstream of Jewish resistance and all their lives they have claimed that the mainstream youth movements (Dror and Hashomer Hatzair) ‘forgot’ to write about them due to considerations of ideological rivalry that accompanied the fighters who survived all the rest of their lives.”

That the rivalry and ill feeling persists to this day was confirmed by Arens, whose new book, “Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto: The Untold Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” (Gefen Publishing House) seeks to document his statement to me that “the major part of the fighting was done by the Revisionist-led Jewish Military Union (ZZW).”

This view goes counter to the thesis of most other historians, who cite the larger Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), a coalition of predominantly liberal and socialist Zionist groups, as carrying the brunt of the battle.

With neither side listing the other side’s fighters, Weinstein probably made the task more difficult by his seemingly contradictory recollections.

He said, on one hand, that he was an ardent member of Betar, the Revisionist youth group, and a fervent admirer of Revisionist founder Jabotinsky, which would logically put him in the ranks of the Jewish Military Union.

On the other hand, Weinstein cited as his commander during the fighting Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman, who was one of the main leaders of the rival Jewish Fighting Organization.

Even the figures on the number of ghetto fighters and survivors are in dispute, which might well be explained by the chaotic conditions during the battles and their aftermath.

Figures range from 300 to 1,000 active fighters, with most experts settling on around 750. Of these, perhaps no more than 12 to 20 escaped or survived the slaughter.

My own experience in a different context backs up the notion that those hoping for precise figures and conclusions of wartime battles generally underestimate the confusion and uncertainty of warfare.

Speaking of another war, during Israel’s 1948-49 War of Independence, I was a member of the 4th Anti-Tank unit, an “Anglo-Saxon” outfit composed of some 100 volunteers from Great Britain, United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

After the war ended, three of us sat down and typed out a history of the unit’s actions. The only copy of the manuscript was lost for 50 years, until our former unit commander in San Francisco discovered it while cleaning his basement.

He sent the yellowing pages to me, and I forwarded a photocopy to the history branch of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), suggesting that the information might be of interest.

In return, I received a letter expressing the IDF’s gratitude, especially in light of the fact that no one in the IDF could find any record that our unit had fought, or even existed.

In July of this year, Israel’s Knesset held a formal ceremony honoring the fallen and survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the first since the establishment of the state.

From the ceremony, two notable remarks are pertinent to my quest. One was by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, who noted that “we do not know who all the [Warsaw Ghetto] fighters were, and we never will.”

The other remark was by Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset: “I had the privilege of serving in the IDF as an officer and a fighter, but I am not a hero,” Rivlin said. “I never stopped a tank with a Molotov cocktail, and I did not fight empty-handed in alleys and the sewage pipes.

“Those with the courage to fight the evil Nazi empire are the real heroes. From the time of the State of Israel’s establishment, our fighters have been inspired by those who dared to rebel in the heart of the Nazi empire at the height of its power.”

A Kristallnacht lesson for our generation


It was Nov. 9 – Kristallnacht, the night of “broken glass” – when hundreds of Jewish businesses and virtually every synagogue throughout Germany and Austria were set ablaze.

On that terrible night in 1938, my father, Sol, ran into a burning synagogue near his home in Vienna and rescued a Torah that would otherwise have been consumed by the flames. He and his brother, Morris Brafman, carried that Torah halfway around the world, ultimately bringing it to the United States, where it was restored and is currently in a yeshiva in Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y., in an ark dedicated to the memory of my father and his wife of 55 years, my mother Rose.

My father, my mother and my father’s brother were among the fortunate few who reached the United States. Like many European Jewish refugees, the Brafman brothers built a successful life in their new country, but never forgot the powerful and tragic events of that terrible night that so dramatically reshaped their lives.

In our home around the Shabbat dinner table, the conversation frequently included passionate discussions about what the Nazis did to our people – and even more passionate discussions about the failure of much of the international community to do anything about it. My father and uncle also were troubled by the lack of an adequate response from the American Jewish community to the Holocaust.

In Elie Wiesel’s book “The Jews of Silence,” one of the earliest writings about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union, Wiesel refers to them as Jews of silence not only because they were held prisoner by the Soviet Union but because they were prevented from speaking out about religious matters. In one of the most haunting statements in the book, Wiesel observes that Jews in the free world who failed to protest against the persecution of Soviet Jewry were also Jews of silence.

My father and his brother were determined to put an end to the silence. Having lived through the “abandonment of the Jews,” words borrowed from the title of David S. Wyman’s landmark book, they were concerned about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. They vowed to make certain there would be no second such abandonment.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, reports began reaching the West about the mistreatment of Jews by the Soviet government. Synagogues were closed down, the study of the Hebrew language was outlawed, Soviet publications were filled with anti-Semitism, and asking for permission to emigrate to Israel assured a one-way ticket to a prison or forced labor camp in Siberia.

These were the years before American Jewry mobilized in protest – before the huge rallies, before we wore wristbands with names of refuseniks, before we set an empty chair at our Passover seder table to symbolize the Russian Jews who were not permitted to celebrate the holiday.

This was 20 years earlier. In a small Manhattan office, the Brafman brothers established the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews, recognizing the legal right of any citizen of the world to be permitted to repatriate to his or her homeland. They were not lawyers, but it was they who put forward, for the first time, the important legal argument that since the State of Israel was the homeland of all Jews, the Soviet Union was violating international law by refusing to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel.

Day after day, year after year, in a lonely battle, these two brave men along with a small handful of heroic colleagues wrote editorials, circulated petitions and enlisted concerned government officials who made the issue of Soviet Jewry public. They persisted in their efforts, until it became an international issue that could not be ignored.

My uncle and my father understood that before they could get people interested in a problem, they first had to make them aware of the problem. So too they understood that as far as the world was concerned, Jewish blood was considered cheap and that only by pressuring public officials in the United States, who would in turn pressure public officials in the Soviet Union, could they ultimately persuade the Soviet Union that the battle to keep Jews prisoner was not worth it and that allowing Jews to emigrate to Israel was a legal solution to what had become a growing international issue.

As we all know, their work and the work of so many other heroes of the struggle for Soviet Jewry ultimately paid enormous dividends – because eventually, the Soviet Union recognized the right of Jews to emigrate to Israel. Millions of Jews from the Soviet Union were freed. Many went to Israel, others to the United States, where today in both countries they are raising proud Jewish families, free to practice their religion and enjoy their heritage with dignity.

What began as a terrible destructive blaze on Kristallnacht 69 years ago became a blazing lifetime pursuit for two men who refused to be Jews of silence and to abandon their Soviet brothers and sisters as so many of their European brothers and sisters had been abandoned many years before.

Benjamin Brafman is a member of the board of directors of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. This article, based on his remarks in November 2007 at an institute conference held at the Fordham University School of Law, New York, is reprinted with permission of The Wyman Institute.

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