Survivor Michele Rodri: Shuttled from place to place until danger passed


On a Thursday afternoon in April 1942, Michele Rodri (née Rosenberg) was playing hopscotch with three non-Jewish girlfriends outside her family’s home in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine when two SS officers approached them. 

“That’s a beautiful child,” one of them said, lifting Michele’s chin. 

Danke schoen,” answered the 7-year-old, who was fluent in German, French and Yiddish, which was her first language — and who also was wearing a yellow star.

The officer then blew a whistle, summoning a German military truck with a canvas-covered cargo bed that pulled up beside them. As the soldier hoisted Michele over the truck’s tall tailgate, she glimpsed the silhouette of her mother in their living room window being steered away from the partially opened drape. 

The truck was packed with adults and some children, crowded together on benches lining the sides or on the floor, many of them crying. “They were making a roundup, a razzia,” Michele said. A woman came over and held her. “Don’t cry,” she told her in Yiddish. But Michele did not feel reassured. “I was very scared,” she said.

Michele was born on March 26, 1935, to Chaim and Hana Rosenberg, who had moved to Paris from Krakow, Poland, around 1920. She had three older brothers: Abel, born in 1922, David in 1923 and Maurice in 1925. 

Chaim owned a business manufacturing threads. “He was very kind and generous but very strict in terms of behavior,” Michele said. Hana cared for the family. “She was an angel,” Michele said. “She could do anything.” 

The family, who was comfortably middle class and religiously observant, lived in a two-story house in a quiet, residential neighborhood, with a garden in back. The neighbors, who were mostly Christian, knew the Rosenbergs were Jewish, but, Michele said, “Everybody lived very harmoniously.” Her family was well-respected, and her father and brothers were especially friendly with the town’s police commissar, Monsieur Sigean.

Everything changed, however, when Germany attacked France on May 10, 1940, eventually entering Paris on June 14. 

Soon after, Michele’s older brothers, Abel and David, joined the Maquis, the French resistance. “They were very patriotic,” Michele said of her brothers, though she didn’t know their destination at the time. Her youngest brother, Maurice, remained at home to help the family. 

The few Jewish students who attended Michele’s public school began being harassed. Other children refused to sit with them or accused them of killing Jesus. Michele, however, was never physically harmed. 

In 1942, when the German military truck transporting Michele pulled up to Drancy, an internment camp in a northeast Parisian suburb of the same name, she and the others were led into a large hall, with the children clustered in one area. They were fed coffee and a piece of worm-infested bread in the morning — “I picked [the worms] out,” Michele said. “I had to eat the bread” — and in the evening, “horrible” soup with rutabaga or potato peelings. During the day, they were allowed outside in the yard, where they played ball. 

Michele talked only to a 5 1/2-year-old girl named Nicole, the daughter of a non-Jewish political prisoner, whose mat lay next to hers. The girl constantly wept, but, Michele said, “I felt a little humanity.” 

One day in July 1942, after Michele had been at Drancy for three months, she saw her oldest brother, Abel, walk in, wearing an SS uniform. “He looked at me — he had these beautiful green eyes — and I knew I was not supposed to move,” Michele recalled. “Schnell, machen,” Abel said in perfect German to the SS soldier following him, one who worked at the internment camp. “Let’s do this quickly.” Abel pointed to Michele and Nicole. “I want these two children,” he said.

Michele and Nicole followed Abel and the SS soldier outside, where what looked like an official German car awaited. “Get in,” the driver ordered, pushing them a bit roughly into the back seat. Abel sat in the front, silent. Finally, after they had driven several kilometers, he turned to face the girls. “I’m going to take you to safety,” he said. 

They drove to a convent, which Michele believes was near Grenoble. There, she and Nicole lived with the nuns, attending public school in the town, though Michele didn’t talk to other girls, afraid she would divulge her identity. At the convent, Michele sang in the choir, which she loved. But she refused to kneel, as she had heard her father say, “Jews don’t kneel,” and she feared something terrible would happen. Meanwhile, the nuns, who were otherwise mostly kind, punished her for each transgression, lashing her lightly with a martinet, a leather whip, which she found embarrassing. 

One day her youngest brother, Maurice, visited her. “It was really dangerous,” Michele said. He had come without wearing his yellow star or telling their parents. But he brought her a pair of roller skates, something she had long coveted, that he had purchased on the black market. “They were so beautiful,” Michele recalled. 

Then, after 13 months at the convent, Michele and Nicole were picked up by a man who drove them to a small villa in Épinay-sur-Orge, a village about 20 miles south of Paris, where they lived with Monsieur and Madame Godignon, an older couple who had agreed to take the girls in exchange for money from Chaim, Michele’s father. 

Madame Godignon was very strict, slapping the girls if they broke a glass and feeding them meager portions, even though Chaim had paid handsomely for their room and board. “I was always hungry,” Michele said. And while Michele found extra pieces of bread at the bakery when she was sent there on errands, she also suffered stomachaches from eating unripe fruit from the backyard trees. “You dirty Jews have all the money,” Madame Godignon taunted her on a daily basis.

Monsieur Godignon, however, showed the girls kindness, such as tucking them into their beds every night. “He had a heart,” Michele said. And one day in fall 1943 or spring 1944, he took Michele to the train station to see her mother, who had undertaken the dangerous journey to visit with her daughter for only the few minutes the train was stopped. Hana hugged and kissed her — “My whole neck was full of tears,” Michele said — and also brought her a meatloaf sandwich, Michele’s favorite. 

In late August 1944, Michele was listening to the radio when she heard Winston Churchill announce that Hitler had capitulated and American troops had reached the outskirts of Paris. Soon after, her parents and two older brothers came to fetch her.  

Once home, Michele looked everywhere for Maurice, thinking he was playing hide-and-seek. She then learned that he had been picked up while riding the train to school in May 1943. A non-Jewish friend who had been riding with him reported to Chaim and Hana that the Germans had boarded the train, ordering all the males to drop their pants. Maurice and the other Jewish men were rounded up and taken to Drancy. 

After Maurice’s capture, Monsieur Sigean, the police commissar, protected Chaim and Hana, who hid in their house behind blacked-out windows. He also brought them food that he bought on the black market with money Chaim gave him. 

After the war, the Rosenbergs, who had changed their name to Lambert, learned that Maurice had been murdered in Auschwitz. Michele’s parents never recovered from that news. Hana lit a yahrzeit candle for Maurice every day for the rest of her life. And, Michele said, “There isn’t a day that I don’t think about him.”

In addition to Maurice, Michele lost 207 relatives in the Holocaust, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and first and second cousins. Her two grandfathers, who lived in Krakow, were hanged, separately, by the Nazis because they were Orthodox. 

In 1956, Michele traveled to Los Angeles to visit her brother David, who was living there at the time, and stayed. The following year, she married Robert Lazaruk, and their son, Kirk, was born in December 1958. The couple divorced in 1960. 

On July 4, 1962, Michele married Jack Cohen-Rodriguez (aka Rodri), a survivor from Holland who had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen. She helped Jack in his various businesses, including representing sports figures and running a medical oxygen company. 

Jack died in 2004, preceded by Chaim in 1972, Hana in 1984 and David in 1996. Abel died in 2014. For Michele, now 81, her family members, including her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, are most precious to her.

Around 2009, Michele began talking about her Holocaust experiences, first at the Stephen Wise Religious School and later at various public and private schools as well as the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “I want to speak as long as I’m here,” she said. 

Michele encourages the young people she addresses to speak up, as citizens of the world, if they see something that is not right.

“Being silent,” she said, “is the most terrible thing.”

With gratitude toward Donald Trump


No one compares to Adolf Hitler. He was incomparably evil.  Nothing in American politics compares to Nazism. Nothing, not now – and hopefully never!

And yet, I am grateful to Donald Trump because he has made my job of explaining the rise of Nazism and political support for Hitler so much easier.

Permit me to explain: 

When I would tell my students that many of Hitler’s supporters did not regard themselves as antisemites or racists, they would look at me quizzically. “How could they not?” they ask. After all, Hitler made secret of his anti-Semitism. He spoke of it openly, directly and repeatedly. He did not use dog whistles but said what he meant and meant what he said.

When I would mention that many did not believe that he would carry out what he had been saying, they were skeptical. After all, he had repeated his threats against the Jews time and again, how could they believe that once in office he would not follow through?

When we would learn that some of his voters were put off by his antisemitism but liked other parts of his platform such as his strong nationalism, his return to national pride, his attacks on the ineffective Weimar Republic and their leaders, his anger at German humiliation with the defeat of World War I and the foreign imposition of the Versailles Treaty. They craved his projection of strength and decisiveness after what many had viewed as ineffective leadership from the German political class, My students would protest. But he was antisemitic and racist. And you are telling me that his supporters did not regard that as disqualifying? They roll their eyes when I tell them that had he not been an antisemite he might have gotten even more support.

When I would mention that Hitler came to power with a minority of seats in a coalition Cabinet and his political partners assured one another and the President that once in office he would be forced to moderate and move toward the center. They would whisper: “he knows nothing and we are men of experience, seasoned, reasoned, disciplined and informed, we can control the man and force him to bend to our will. They would look skeptically at me. Given what they know happened shortly after Hitler took office, they wondered: how could they be so sure, how could they be misguided?

When I would describe the reasoning of Germany’s Conservative political leadership: better to bring this angry man and his angry hordes inside the tent looking outward that outside the tent continually raging, they would throw up their hands in frustration: how could they be so naïve as to imagine that the rage would not continue and once in power become institutionalized, bureaucratized, legalized? Couldn’t they understand that power would only embolden them and that such power would only entice them to use it effectively and cruelly?

And finally, when I would say that no one in his inner circle could stand up to Hitler, could tell him to stop and cut it out, change direction or that Germany did not have, at least not after the Emergency Decrees of March 1933 have the checks and balances and the separation of powers that restrained the exercise of power. I would show them two pictures, one of Hitler receiving a briefing from his Generals in 1939 — when the wars were proceeding well for Germany he listened attentively to what they were telling him — and another in 1942 when Hitler was making decision after decision that would bring them to defeat, the Generals listened obediently to what he was instructing them. My students would ask timidly, did the man have no friends, could no one tell him the truth?

Again Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump. No equivalence is possible. Trump does not have a coherent vision positive or negative to implement. He only has himself and his sense of self-aggrandizement.

And yet now my students now will have much easier time understanding that while everyone hears Trumps tirades against Muslims and Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, his promises of exclusion and deportation, for many that simply is not disqualifying. 

They do not regard themselves as racists and could not imagine themselves to be and are uncomfortable if not distraught by his racism but other aspects of his program appeals to them: America First, the “lousy” trade deals, the reversal of globalization, the restoration of American greatness, the hatred of the political class – Washington that evil, awful place – and the promise of American jobs.

My students will now be able to see first-hand how the wise men of Germany could be so mistaken. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan condemned the Republican nominee’s statements about an Indiana born Federal Judge as racist and speaks with rightful respect about Gold Star mothers and fathers who children died in the service of our nation. He is not in favor of excluding Muslims or deporting Mexicans and yet supports his party’s nominee because Trump will advance Conservative causes and appoint a Conservative Supreme Court. I do not know what he is feeling in his heart of hearts but if I judge by his actions, I presume that he believes he and not Trump can set the agenda, the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Senate can moderate Trump and negate the racist and un-American aspects of his agenda.

I have no such confidence. I suspect that the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party believes that he will bend the Ryans and McConnells to his will just as he broke 15 other candidates for President and made the toughest of them Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey appear like a lap dog, taking scraps off the master’s table.

While I have no confidence in Republican leadership who are deluding themselves and the nation with the notion that they will triumph in a contest of ideas; and while I am appalled by the so-called  “religious leaders” who want to make the nation more Christian – Jesus preached a gospel of compassion and human dignity, gratitude and grace, he reached out to the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the dispossessed — while they support a man who is the embodiment of values antithetical to religiosity. , 

I do have confidence in the American people who, no matter how angry, will reject the politics of exclusion and bigotry and vote for inclusion and decency. I pray that I am not deceiving myself,

Let me conclude with a story: many years ago Steven Spielberg and I met with a man who spent the meeting telling Spielberg how important he was. When the meeting concluded and we stepped outside Spielberg turned to me and said:

 “What was that about?”

“He wanted to tell you how important he was,” I answered. 

He said: “I know he was important, otherwise I could not have met with him.” 

I said: “he has a big ego.” 

Steven corrected me immediately. “No, he has a small ego in need of enlargement. I have a big ego and need not enlarge it at another’s expense.”

I keep remembering that story whenever I hear Trump speak of size of hands, of private parts, of height and or fortune. Only a man with a small ego in need of enlargement would become obsessed by size. 

Beware of such man and most especially so such man preaching such a philosophy.

94-year-old Nazi war criminal deemed unfit to stand trial in Germany


Prosecutors in Stuttgart are shelving their war crimes investigation of a 94-year-old man who already was convicted of Nazi war crimes in Italy.

Former SS soldier Wilhelm Kusterer of Engelsbrand —  who was found guilty of involvement in the massacre of 770 civilians in Marzabotto, Italy, in 1944 and sentenced to life in prison in absentia in 2008 — was too ill to stand trial, the prosecutors said. A spokesman for the prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to get a conviction in Germany, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The German investigation was launched in 2013.

In March 2015, Kusterer, who had served for years in the Engelsbrand parliament as a member of the Social Democratic Party, received an honorary medal for social services from his town. But he returned the medal last March following protests mounted from Italy against honoring a convicted war criminal.

Auschwitz guard’s death deprives survivors of justice they hoped for


The death of a former Auschwitz guard days before his trial in Germany has dashed the hopes of two elderly Jewish survivors of Nazi rule who wanted to see justice for their parents, who perished while the guard was on duty at the death camp.

Israel Loewenstein, himself a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, and Henry Foner, a 83-year-old chemist, talked to Reuters at their homes in Israel a day before news of the death of Ernst Tremmel, the former guard, emerged.

They had hoped Tremmel would face justice late in his life.

“But then again we don't know if he would have even told the truth about Auschwitz – many of the accused don't, after all,” Loewenstein told Reuters on Friday after learning of Tremmel's death.

German courts are hearing two other Auschwitz cases. The trials of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke, a former Auschwitz paramedic, and of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former guard at the death camp, have already started. Both have remained silent on the accusations so far.

“It's a good thing (Germany) is doing it, but it doesn't touch my heart somehow,” Foner, who was evacuated from Germany to Britain with other Jewish children in 1939 as part of a Jewish initiative, said at his home in Jerusalem.

He had hoped to see justice done in the case of Tremmel, but said: “There can never be closure. Closure to me is meaningless – you can't get back what has been taken.”

Tremmel was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at the death camp in occupied Poland from November 1942 to June 1943. His trial had been scheduled to start on April 13, but a court spokesman said on Thursday he had died at the age of 93.

Although Tremmel was not directly involved in the mass killings at Auschwitz, German prosecutors said he had helped in the murder of at least 1,075 people during his stint of some eight months at the death camp. They said he volunteered to join the SS and started working as an Auschwitz guard at the age of 19.

Tremmel's platoon was regularly charged with overseeing the camp's 'selection process', forming a human chain around the arriving deportation trains to prevent new arrivals from escaping before they were either selected for forced labor or sent off to be killed in the camp's gas chambers.

Loewenstein, who survived the Holocaust in various forced labor camps, remembered the selection process when he arrived at the death camp in March 1943, at the age of 18.

“We came to Auschwitz in the middle of the night after four days on a train without food,” he recalled, speaking German at his home in Yad Hana, a former kibbutz in northern Israel.

“Suddenly, the doors were torn open, headlights were blazing, German shepherds were barking and we only heard the guards yell 'Get out! Get out!'”

From the group of 100 people Loewenstein arrived with in Auschwitz, only 17 survived.

Loewenstein's parents, Paula and Walter, as well as Max Lichtwitz, the father of Foner, arrived on the same deportation train from Berlin on Dec. 9, 1942. All three were selected to be killed and died in the death camp's gas chambers the next day.

AP cooperated with Nazi regime, study finds


The Associated Press formally cooperated with the Hitler regime, including providing material produced by the Nazis’ propaganda ministry, a German historian alleges in a new study.

Historian Harriet Scharnberg, in an article published in German in the academic journal Studies in Contemporary History, alleges that AP was able to remain in Germany because of its cooperation with the Nazi regime. AP was the only international news agency allowed to continue to operate in Germany until the United States entered World War II in 1941.

The wire service in response denied collaborating with the Nazis.

“AP rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time,” its statement said. “Rather, the AP was subjected to pressure from the Nazi regime from the period of Hitler’s coming to power in 1932 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP staff resisted the pressure while doing its best to gather accurate, vital and objective news for the world in a dark and dangerous time.”

The article was first reported in The Guardian.

AP agreed to abide by the Schriftleitergesetz, or Editor’s Law, under which it would not publish any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home,” Scharnberg wrote.

AP in its response said that the entity Scharnberg is referring to was a German subsidiary of AP Britain established prior to the Nazi rise to power and as such subject to the law when it was introduced in 1935.

The news agency also hired reporters and photographers who worked for the propaganda ministry, and allowed the Nazis to use its photo archives to create anti-Semitic propaganda, Schanberg said.

A historian at Halle’s Martin Luther University, Schanberg argued that AP’s cooperation with the Hitler regime allowed the Nazis to “portray a war of extermination as a conventional war,” according to The Guardian.

In its reply, issued after AP reviewed documents in its archives and elsewhere, the wire service said images “that came from Nazi government, government-controlled or government-censored sources were labeled as such in their captions or photo credits sent to U.S. members and other customers of the AP, who used their own editorial judgment about whether to publish the images.”

The AP in its response noted that Louis Lochner, its Berlin bureau chief at the time, won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about the Nazis, and said he protected Jewish employees of the wire service.

Lochner “resisted anti-Semitic pressure to fire AP’s Jewish employees and when that failed he arranged for them to become employed by AP outside of Germany, likely saving their lives,” the AP said. “Lochner himself was interned in Germany for five months after the United States entered the war and was later released in a prisoner exchange. He then spent the next year publicly speaking out against fascism in lectures and in his book, ‘What about Germany.’”

Both 94, Auschwitz survivor faces camp guard in German court


A 94-year-old survivor of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp gave his testimony in court on Thursday, face to face with a former guard, who is charged with helping in the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Leon Schwarzbaum, who lost 35 family members during the Holocaust, calmly recalled the camp's horrors and when he had finished he directly addressed the accused, Reinhold Hanning, also 94, on the first day of his trial. 

“I want to know why millions of Jews were killed and here we both are,” Schwarzbaum said, his voice beginning to tremble. 

“Soon we will both stand in front of the highest judge – tell everyone here what happened, the way I've done just now!”

Hanning avoided eye contact throughout, showing no reaction to Schwarzbaum's account. He had shuffled slowly into court and sat hunched and motionless in what is is likely to be one of Germany's last Nazi war crimes trials.

The former guard was 20 in 1942 when he joined the SS Death Head Unit at the concentration camp in occupied Poland, where more than 1.1 million Jews were killed.

The international media frenzy surrounding the case forced authorities to move the trial from the court house in Detmold, a small town in western Germany, to a bigger venue in the suburbs.

There was a heavy police presence around the building with a squad of officers on horseback, as Hanning walked in, wearing black glasses and a brown tweed jacket and looking at the ground. The session was limited to two hours due to his age.

Prosecutors said Hanning had joined the Death Head Unit, the Nazi organization overseeing death camps, voluntarily at the age of 18 and fought in eastern Europe in the early stages of World War Two before being transferred to Auschwitz in January 1942.

He is accused by the prosecutor's office in Dortmund as well as by 40 joint plaintiffs from Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain, the United States and Germany.

Hanning will not speak himself but his lawyer may read out a statement once all the witnesses have testified, defense lawyer Johannes Salmen said after the session ended.

Germany's Nazi war crimes office in Ludwigsburg has established that Hanning served in Auschwitz until at least June 1944.

He has admitted to having been a guard in a statement to the prosecution, but has denied involvement in the mass killings.

Investigators say he also served at Auschwitz's Birkenau sub-division, where about 90 percent of more than 1.2 million killings in the camp were carried out in four gas chambers. 

Prosecutors maintain that the Nazis' machinery of murder hinged on people like Hanning guarding the prisoners, and accuse him of expediting, or at least facilitating, the slaughter.

“The final decision over life and death was made by the SS men,” prosecutor Andreas Brendel said, after recounting the selection process of victims when they arrived at the camp.

Old and sick people, pregnant women, children under 13 and parents not letting go of their children were separated from their families and immediately sent to the gas chambers.

More witnesses are expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to go on until the end of May.

A precedent for charging former death camp employees as accessories to murder was set in 2011 when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted.

Last year, 94-year-old Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was sentenced for being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people in Auschwitz.

Three other former death camp workers in their 90s – two men and one woman – are due to go on trial in the next few months.

Because of their age, their hearings will also be restricted to two hours per day, assuming they are fit to face trial.

But Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, responsible for war crime investigations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that age should not be an obstacle to prosecution.

“When you think of these cases, don't think of frail, old, sick men and women but of young people who devoted their energies to a system that implemented the Final Solution and aimed to obliterate the Jewish people,” he said, referring to the Nazi's plan for the systematic extermination of the Jews.

Former Nazi, 93, to be third Auschwitz guard to face trial this year


A 93-year-old former Nazi guard at Auschwitz will go on trial in Germany in April — the third such case to be tried in 2016.

A German court announced on Friday that the ex-Waffen SS guard, whose name has not been released, is fit to stand trial, Agence France Press reported.

The defendant, who worked at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland between Nov. 1, 1942, and June 25, 1943, is being charged as an accessory to murder. The German court, in Hanau, said that at least three trains carrying deportees arrived at the camp on his watch.

“Of the deportees, at least 1,075 people were cruelly and maliciously killed in the gas chambers after their arrival in Auschwitz,” the court said in a statement, according to AFP.

Three relatives of people murdered at Auschwitz are co-plaintiffs in the case.

In an accommodation to the defendant’s advanced age, hearings will be limited to four hours a day.

According to AFP, two other SS members from Auschwitz, are also scheduled to stand trial in 2016. Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former guard, will appear in court next week, while Hubert Zafke, a 95-year-old ex-medic, will go on trial at the end of February. Both are charged with assisting in the killings of thousands of people at the camp.

Hitler was shrewd, not so hypnotic, new German biography says


A new biography of Hitler by a prominent German historian is likely to stir controversy with its argument that the Nazi leader's political acumen has been underestimated and that the belief in his hypnotic grip over Germans is inflated.

Peter Longerich's “Hitler,” to be published on Monday, is a 1,295-page tome that includes material from the diaries of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and early Hitler speeches.

“Overall, you have a picture of a dictator who controlled much more, who was more closely involved in individual decisions than previously thought. I wanted to put Hitler as a person back in the center,” Longerich told Reuters in an interview.

Recent works on the Third Reich have placed more emphasis on the social and political climate that led to the rise of Nazism after defeat in World War One and crippling reparation demands. 

Soon after World War Two, Germans clung to the belief that they had been held hostage by a criminal gang led by the charismatic Hitler, bent on conquering Europe and exterminating Jews.

Longerich, a professor at London University, argues that while all Hitler's policies and the results were catastrophic, he acted smartly in specific situations. 

“The question why he managed to get so far needs to be addressed: Obviously he had the ability to exploit individual situations in his own interest and for his own aims,” he said.

Even his racial policies, which culminated in the murder of at least 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, were in large part down to political opportunism, says Longerich, who does not think Hitler was radically anti-Semitic at an early age. 

“Around 1919-1920 he realized he could be successful in politics by embracing and inciting anti-Semitism,” he said, adding it became a central element only in the 1930s.

Hitler's skill in taking power is even more striking given that the Austrian-born art student was a 'nobody' with no ideology until he was about 30. Only then, refusing to accept Germany's defeat, was he drawn to the early Nazi party.

Longerich also seeks to debunk the theory that Hitler had an irresistible charisma that captivated Germans, arguing it was largely artificially constructed by the Nazi propaganda machine which pumped out pictures of entranced fans at rallies.

The author does not exonerate Germans, saying large parts of the population supported Hitler while others were opportunistic in following him, but he argues that there were social tensions and discontent, for example within the church.

“It would be illogical to think that a deeply divided country like Germany suddenly united behind one person and shared one political view,” Longerich said.

Seventy years after his death, Germans' attitudes toward Hitler are still evolving, Longerich said.

“I don't think there is any enthusiasm for Hitler but we are seeing taboos being broken,” he said, citing recent films about the dictator and a debate about the publication of “Mein Kampf.”

As fears about right-wing radicalism in Germany grow due to the refugee crisis, he warns that with a “rougher” political atmosphere, “the potential of a single political figure is a factor which should not be underestimated.”

The truth about Jerusalem’s grand mufti, Hitler and the Holocaust


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went too far in recent comments that Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem before and during World War II, played a “central role in fomenting the Final Solution” by trying to convince Hitler to destroy the Jews during a 1941 meeting in Berlin. But Netanyahu was right on when he emphasized the Mufti’s Holocaust complicity and activities before, during, and after the war when the Mufti lied about alleged Jewish intentions to expel Muslim and Islam from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—the same lie that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas repeats today in support of the current “knife Intifada.”

Netanyahu was right to remind the world that the Grand Mufti was an enthusiastic supporter of Nazi Germany  but it is not true that the Fuhrer needed the advice of Islam’s leading anti-Jewish fanatic to implement the Final Solution. That was his dream as far back as 1919 as a letter that he authored and signed now on display at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance documents.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been accused of “a dangerous historical distortion” and even “Holocaust Denial” from the predictable political quarters who even dismiss the Grand Mufti as “a lightweight” inconsequential in the history of the Holocaust. This claim wrongly mitigates the Mufti’s mindset and crimes as one of the Hitler era’s leading anti-Jewish haters.

Who was Haj Amin al-Husseini and what was his historical significance? A relative of Yasser Arafat as well as ally of Hassan al-Banna, originator of Hamas’ parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Grand Mufti was a moving force behind Palestinian Jew hatred, from the riots of 1920 and 1929 through the 1936-1939 bloody Arab Uprising against the Holy Land’s Jewish community, long before his WWII support of Nazi Germany.

According to Historian Robert Wistrich’s Hitler and the Holocaust (2001), the Mufti escaped British scrutiny in Jerusalem after the war’s outbreak for the more friendly confines of Berlin, where, in November, 1941, he had tea with Hitler who asked him “to lock in the innermost depths of his heart” that he (Hitler) “would carry on the battle to the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist Empire in Europe.” In 1942, Fred Grobba wrote approvingly of the Mufti’s visit with members of the Nazi elite to “the concentration camp Oranienburg . . . . The visit lasted about two hours with very satisfying results . . . . the Jews aroused particular interest among the Arabs. . . . It [the visit] . . . made a very favorable impression on the Arabs.”

In 1943, the Mufti extended his relations with the German Foreign Office and Abwehr directly to the SS Main Office. Gottlob Berger arranged a meeting between al-Husayni and SS chief Heinrich Himmler on July 3, 1943. Al-Husayni sent Himmler birthday greetings on October 6, and expressed the hope that “the coming year would make our cooperation even closer and bring us closer to our common goals.” The Grand Mufti also helped organize a Muslim Waffen SS Battalion, known as the Hanjars, that slaughtered ninety percent of Bosnia’s Jews, and were dispatched to Croatia and Hungary. The Mufti also made broadcasts to the Middle East urging Arabs and Muslims to honor Allah by implementing their own Final Solution.

After the War, Great Britain, the U.S., and Yugoslavia indicted the Mufti as a war criminal, but Yugoslavia dropped its extradition request to France, and legal proceedings were abandoned so as not to upset the Arab world. Escaping back to the Middle East, Al-Husseini continued his genocidal exhortations and rejectionist demands that the Jewish presence be erased from Palestine continued unabated before and during the 1948 War by five Arab states against Israel. Only then, did his influence gradually decline. He died in 1974, not long after Arab armies almost succeeded in destroying Israel in an attack launched on Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.
Far from “a light weight,” the Grand Mufti will be remembered as one the twentieth century’s most virulent Jew haters and a key cheerleader for Hitler’s genocidal Final Solution.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

After Netanyahu comments, Germany says responsibility for Holocaust is ours


The German government said on Wednesday that responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Germans, after Israel's prime minister sparked controversy before a visit to Berlin by saying a Muslim elder had convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate Jews.

“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust,” Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks.

“This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”

Hours before leaving for Berlin, Netanyahu referred in a speech to a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s that he said were instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

“Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in the speech. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, 'If you expel them, they'll all come here.'

As Maccabi Games come and go at Hitler’s stadium, is Germany now a (relative) light for Europe’s Jew


Soccer broadcaster Marcel Reif, 65, has received many angry letters during his three decades as one of Germany’s most famous sports personalities. He was born in Silesia in 1949. His father was a Jew who survived the Holocaust. His mother was a Polish Catholic. And Reif and his parents even lived in Tel Aviv for two years in the 1950s.

But Reif said he has received only one letter in his broadcasting career that has been even remotely anti-Semitic — it mentioned his “big nose.” People have written “many, many things,” Reif said during a recent meeting with a small group of foreign journalists at a cafe in the Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg. “Just once, once in 30 years, nothing more. Which is OK, it’s OK for this country.”

The soft-spoken commentator normally divides his time between Munich and Zurich, but he was in Berlin in the final week of July as an “ambassador” for the 14th European Maccabi Games, which were inaugurated in 1929 in Prague, and this year, for the first time, called Germany home. The games ran from July 27 to Aug. 5 at the highly symbolic venue of Olympic Stadium, once one of Adolf Hitler’s architectural prides and the site of the highly propagandized and Nazified 1936 Olympic Games, from which many Jewish athletes were barred.

The games featured more than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries (a majority of the athletes came from Germany, the United States, Israel, France, Great Britain, Russia and Turkey) competing in 19 sports at the Berlin Olympic Park, which, somewhat eerily, doesn’t look much different than it does in the infamous pictures from 1936, minus the Nazi decorations. 

Asked whether holding the games here could be seen as a “miracle,” Reif responded, “It’s remarkable. It’s not a miracle anymore, but that’s good.”

In the first days of the games, the symbolism was sometimes overwhelming, intentionally so. A July 28 memorial ceremony at the adjacent Olympiastadion complex featured a speech by Margot Friedlander, 93, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Berlin and was captured by the Gestapo in 1944 and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Friedlander moved with her husband to New York as a newlywed in 1946 and, upon his death in 2003, visited Berlin for the first time since being taken by the Nazis. She moved back to Berlin in 2010 and lives there now, sometimes speaking about the Holocaust to students at German schools.

As a steady rain fell on the approximately 1,500 athletes, relatives and dignitaries at the memorial ceremony, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas remembered Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who was banned from competing in the 1936 games despite holding a national record. “Hitler robbed her of Olympic victory,” he told the crowd, “but now there’s a street named after her in Berlin.”

Maas talked about the sense of shame among Germans over the Holocaust — a shame visible everywhere in Berlin, with its myriad memorials and preserved historical sites, among them the lakeside Wannsee Villa, where the Final Solution was agreed upon by the Nazi high command, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. “Present-day enjoyment is not something we can really ever separate from the suffering of the past,” Maas said, adding that Jews’ desire now to live in Germany, and, in particular, in Berlin represents a “stroke of undeserved” fortune.

But is it really undeserved?

Consider the remorse German society and its government have shown for the Holocaust, which the vast majority of today’s Germans (well over 80 percent) did not live through. Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, a major Jewish figure in Germany and the head of the Chabad Jewish Educational Center in Berlin, told me during my visit, “There’s no nation in the history of the world that has done so much to try to express how ashamed it is for what was done by their country. Every two blocks you have another memorial.” 

In Berlin, I found myself feeling compassion for young Germans who carry the burden of deep guilt and shame at what a past version of Germany — one that’s unrecognizable to them — did decades before they were born. When I visited Ukraine some years ago, I didn’t sense the same remorse and introspection — the Jewish memorial at the Babi Yar site is tiny even though Ukrainians were instrumental in carrying out the Nazis’ massacre of Ukrainian Jewry — or in Russia, where, remaining consistent with a hesitancy, or refusal, to condemn its Soviet past, the mass persecution and oppression of millions of Jews by the communists is treated as more-or-less a nonissue today, even though the current Jewish community in Russia is very active.

Germany’s government and internal security services also have gone to great lengths to make their county as safe as possible for Jews, often not an easy task considering the combination of Islamist, far-right and far-left elements in Germany, as well as in the rest of Western Europe. “We do not live on an island of happiness,” said Daniel Botman, executive director of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. But, he said, “So far we have been spared from attacks. Differently to previous [governments], the German government is sensitive to these problems.”

The story of modern-day anti-Semitism in Western Europe and its impact on Jewish populations is not a simple one. The three largest Jewish communities in Western Europe are in France (475,000), the United Kingdom (290,000) and Germany (at least 200,000). The first two numbers are based on official surveys, and the third falls between the number of Jews in Germany registered with Jewish communities and the unofficial number that takes into account the large number of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Israel who aren’t part of a Jewish community.

But in the last 25 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, only one of Western Europe’s three largest countries has shown significant growth in its Jewish population — Germany, which had only 30,000 Jews in 1990.

The increasing rate of emigration of Jews from France to Israel is no longer a new story after the 2012 attack by Mohammed Merah on a Jewish school in Toulouse and the siege of Paris’ kosher Hypercacher market by Amedy Coulibaly last January. Each assailant murdered four Jews and in turn focused the news media on the growing North African Muslim (and alarmingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel) population in France, as well as on the French government’s weaknesses in adequately protecting its Jewish population. 

In May, a Paris-based reporter for Britain’s Jewish Chronicle noted that soldiers were becoming less and less present at Jewish sites in Paris after their “around-the-clock” presence following the January attacks, and quoted the rabbi of a congregation who said, “We knew that level of protection wouldn’t last.” 

Between January and May of this year, according to French Jewry’s security service, the SPCJ, anti-Semitic incidents nearly doubled compared with the same period in 2014, reaching 508, 121 of which were violent. 

Team USA Soccer (under 18) went 2-3 in Berlin and lost in the bronze medal game to Sweden.

For the record, when I recently attended a Shabbat service at a large synagogue in the upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine suburb of Paris, I noticed two soldiers with rifles standing across the street as services let out. At Paris’ Holocaust museum, too, there were multiple heavily armed soldiers standing guard outside.

Spending time in Paris with two of my cousins — sisters who are in their 80s and have lived their entire lives in France — I heard concerns about a growing and hostile Muslim-Arab population similar to ones I’ve read about in American newspapers since the Hypercacher attack. And although Paris is certainly much safer and more attractive for Jews than it might seem from headlines in the U.S., it was clear that my cousins would rather live in Israel (they said they’re too old to move now), where they could join one of their daughters and two of their nieces who emigrated there decades ago.

During my visit, France felt like Europe’s past, with its fears, anxieties and narrative of emigration, while Berlin felt closer to Europe’s Jewish future, with its vibrancy, excitement and narrative of immigration. 

Germany, though, is certainly not an oasis of philo-Semitism. The country experienced nearly 1,600 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, a 25 percent increase from the previous year. During Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, largely Muslim protests swept through Western Europe, including Germany, with protestors chanting slogans like “Death to the Jews,” “Jews to the gas,” and “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight on your own.”

“This was certainly a wake-up call for many of us,” Botman said, suggesting that the country’s Jews had been living under a false sense of security until then. Interestingly, though — and this is a part of what makes anti-Semitism in Western Europe so dynamic and complex — while Germany has the largest Muslim population in Europe at nearly 5 million, it may also be less hostile to Jews than the Muslim immigrants in either France or the United Kingdom. 

According to a March report by the German government, in 2013 more than 95 percent of anti-Semitic incidents were perpetrated by neo-Nazis. That changed drastically in 2014, with Israel’s war with Hamas, but perhaps some comfort can be found in the fact that Germany’s Jews appear to have less to fear from a growing Muslim population than, say, Jews in France or the U.K. At the Maccabi Games, Rachel Heuberger, the mother of a volleyball player on the German team, said she feels “very safe” living in Frankfurt, and theorized that one key difference between the Muslim populations of Germany and say, France or the U.K., is that Germany’s Muslim citizens are overwhelmingly coming from Turkey. 

“There have been some attacks, but in general it’s very safe. It’s not like in France,” she said. “Most Muslim immigrants [here] are Turkish.” 

For the German government, dealing with neo-Nazi elements — something they have 70 years of experience with — may be simpler than dealing with newer, Islamist ones. However, another statistic hints that Germany’s Muslim immigrant population has less cause for concern about Jews than those in other parts of Western Europe. For while German intelligence estimates that about 700 Islamic State recruits have been from Germany (some of whom return), many more have come from France and the U.K., even though those countries have smaller Muslim populations than Germany’s.

David Stern, a 34-year-old German Jew, told me life in Berlin is “totally normal.” I spoke to him in the stands at Olympiastadion, where he was watching the opening ceremony with his wife and young daughter.

“Especially in Berlin, it’s very good surroundings. You have Jewish schools, Jewish kindergartens and a very big Jewish community,” Stern said.

Even in the U.K., the situation for Jews appears to be headed in the wrong direction. In February, the Community Security Trust (CST), which tracks anti-Semitism in the U.K., reported nearly 1,200 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, more than twice the figure from the previous year. And in the first six months of 2015, the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism reported 473 anti-Semitic incidents, a 53 percent increase from the corresponding period in 2014.

Dave Rich, CST’s communications director, said in a phone interview from London that he thinks the increase this year in the U.K.’s numbers is a result of better reporting techniques and “reporting drives” that CST runs across Jewish communities in the country, rather than more actual anti-Semitic incidents. “In terms of general day-to-day life, walking around London or Manchester wearing a yarmulke, it’s safe to do so,” Rich said, pointing out that most of the attacks on Jews in the U.K. are not politically motivated, but instead stem from things like “low-level street racism and xenophobia.”

Rich said that since 2010, the British government has spent more than $3 million per year beefing up security at Jewish schools, and earlier this year pledged more than $17 million for security at Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions. 

“After the terrorist attacks in Paris and in Copenhagen, we felt the psychological impact here in Britain, but it didn’t result in anyone leaving,” Rich said, adding that many French Jews who have left France have moved to London.

Nevertheless, these numbers don’t fully explain Europe’s complexities. A Pew Research Center survey in June showed that among Western European countries, Jews are viewed by the general population most favorably in France (92 percent), then in the U.K. (86 percent), and then in Germany (80 percent). The differences, then, in the sources and degrees of anti-Semitism in Western European countries, don’t impact whether governments must remain vigilant against it, but how they do so, and Germany’s government may have more experience than any on monitoring and thwarting it. Whereas France and the U.K. have a distinct Islamist problem, Germany continues to face a perpetual neo-Nazi, far-right element, regardless of events in Israel. 

“It’s not France. It’s not England. It’s a much, much better situation,” Teichtal said of Germany. “Not because the situation is really actually better, but because the authorities are truly doing everything they can to not let it become a political hindrance for Jews to be here.”

At the Maccabi Games opening ceremonies, it was impossible to walk 20 feet without seeing multiple police cars and armed security guards. Alon Meyer, the president of Makkabi Germany, said that the budget for the games was about $7.6 million. Asked how much went to pay for private security, he said, “very, very much.” The New York Times reported that security alone cost about $5.5 million. A Maccabi official later told the Times of Israel that 60 security guards were posted at the Hotel Estrel at all times, the site where athletes stayed, which is in the heavily Muslim Neukolln neighborhood. Another 300 guards were at Olympic Park during the day — 600 for the opening ceremony. 

Still, the Maccabi Games did not go on without some incidents, albeit small ones. On July 31, two teens in Neukolln taunted six Jewish men and threw an object at them, then fled. And at the Hotel Estrel, an Arab man yelled anti-Semitic slurs at two guards. And on Aug. 1, German police reported that anti-Semitic graffiti had been discovered on the East Side Gallery, an iconic section of the Berlin Wall. 

Since January, there have been many incidents in Germany of desecration of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic graffiti. Maccabi athletes were advised to not wear identifying Jewish symbols in the streets and to avoid public transportation; and private busses transported the athletes from the hotel to Olympic Park for every event.

Yet that the Maccabi Games could be held in Berlin and celebrated by the German government is a testament to how far the country has come in two generations. And while non-Jewish Berliners didn’t seem to take notice of the games, many of the Maccabi volunteers were non-Jews, and the German daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung featured the Maccabi Games on its cover in its July 29 edition, a statement of mainstream recognition in Berlin.

Jews in Germany today “are proud of Germany,” Alon Meyer said. Teichtal characterized the Jewish scene in the country as an “unbelievable renaissance.” 

And although Germany’s Jewish community and infrastructure today is tiny by comparison to that of Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia or a host of Latin American countries, compared to the rest of Western Europe, Germany is starting to look like an increasingly attractive option.

Nicholas Winton, the ‘British Schindler,’ dies aged 106


A man who became known as the “British Schindler” for saving hundreds of Czech children from Nazi persecution in the run-up to World War II, has died at the age of 106.

Nicholas Winton died on Wednesday with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his side, according to a statement from the Rotary Club of Maidenhead in southern England, of which he was a former president.

Winton managed to bring 669 mostly Jewish children on eight trains to Britain through Germany in 1939 but the ninth train with 250 children never left Prague because the war broke out. None of the 250 children on board was ever seen again.

Winton had worked as a stockbroker before heading to Prague in 1938 to help with welfare work for Czech refugees and was 29 when he masterminded the rescue of the children.

His achievements were often compared with those of Oskar Schindler, the ethnic German industrialist who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust and who was the subject of the 1993 film “Schindler's List.”

Winton's wartime exploits, however, remained a secret for years until his wife Greta found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988.

He had not even told her of his role.

“You can't come up to somebody and say: 'by the way do you want to know what I did in '39?' People don't talk about what they did in the war,” Winton told Reuters Television in 2009.

Over the years, Winton's work had been recognized with various awards and with a small planet discovered by Czech astronomers named in his honor.

He had also been commended by the U.S. House of Representatives which said it “urges men and women everywhere to recognize in Winton’s remarkable humanitarian effort the difference that one devoted, principled individual can make in changing and improving the lives of others.”

The Rotary Club quoted from a 1939 letter in which Winton had written: “There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one's time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering.

“It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.”

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.

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Nazi-hunter group praises Germany’s efforts to track down ex-Nazis


The Simon Wiesenthal Center praised Germany’s recent efforts in tracking down former Nazis while noting a general lack of progress in finding them throughout the rest of the world.

The organization’s 14th Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals, released Monday, said Germany has found dozens of former Nazis since 2011. In the past year, cases against most of them have been referred to prosecutors; two have been brought to court.

“The most important positive results achieved during the period under review [April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015] were obtained in Germany, in the wake of the implementation by the local judicial authorities of a legal strategy, which paves the way for the conviction of practically any person who served either in a Nazi death camp or in the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units),” the report said.

By contrast, Eastern European countries have not shown the political will to locate and punish former Nazis living there, according to the report.

“The campaign led by the Baltic countries to distort the history of the Holocaust and obtain official recognition that the crimes of the Communists are equal to those of the Nazis is another major obstacle to the prosecution of those responsible for the crimes of the Shoa,” the report said.

More than 3,500 new investigations have been opened in the 14 years the Wiesenthal Center has been issuing its annual reports.

“Despite the somewhat prevalent assumption that it is too late to bring Nazi murderers to justice, the figures clearly prove otherwise, and we are trying to ensure that at least several of these criminals will be brought to trial during the coming years,” said the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff.

Manuscript by Nazi code breaker Alan Turing sells for $1 million


A 56-page handwritten notebook that belonged to World War II Nazi code breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing, played by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the film “The Imitation Game,” sold for more than $1 million at an auction in New York, Bonhams said on Monday.

Turing, a British mathematical genius, led a team of cryptographers who cracked the wartime Enigma code, which the Germans had considered unbreakable. Their work is credited with hastening the end of the war and saving lives.

Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in Bonhams' fine books and manuscripts department, said the result of the auction as a testament to Turing's legacy. Bonhams declined to name the buyer.

“It reflects his importance in history. I think he is someone who merits further study, and I hope this contributes to increased interest in him and his work,” she said in an interview.

The auction also reaffirms a growing interest in scientific material, the history of computers, space, exploration and early science, she added.

Part of the proceeds from the sale will go to an unspecified charity.

The notebook, which had never been seen in public, is considered the only existing, extensive manuscript by Turing. It dates back to 1942 and was left to his friend Robin Gandy. In it Turing worked on mathematical formulas and the basics of computer science, giving insights into the workings of his brilliant mind.

Gandy added his own notes between the pages of Turing's musings and kept the notebook hidden until his death.

Turing, a homosexual, never received credit for his groundbreaking work during the war. He committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41 while receiving hormone treatment. It was an alternative to imprisonment after he was charged with gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. Homosexual sex was a crime at that time in Britain.

Sixty years after his death Turing received a rare, royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth for his gay conviction.

Cumberbatch received a best actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Turing in the film, which won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The film is based on the book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” by Andrew Hodges.

“This notebook shines extra light on how, even when he was enmeshed in great world events, he remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics,” Hodges said in a statement.

Jewish dealers’ heirs turn to U.S. to recover German art trove


The heirs of Jewish art dealers who say their families were forced to sell the Nazis a trove of medieval church treasure worth some $250 million today have turned to a U.S. court to reclaim it, after failing in their attempts in Germany.

The collection, known as the Guelph Treasure, consists of 44 gold, jewel and pearl encrusted pieces which have belonged to the city of Berlin's art collection since their purchase in 1935, on the orders of leading Nazi Hermann Goering.

Germany says an expert committee established last year that the sale was not forced, following a 2008 claim by the heirs.

The reliquiaries dating from the 11th to 15th centuries were once owned by northern German aristocrats and kept in Brunswick cathedral. Today they are on show in Berlin's Bode Museum.

Lawyers for the heirs of the dealers, who bought the collection from the Duke of Brunswick in 1929, said on Tuesday they filed a civil suit with a district court in Washington DC, appealing to the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).

They say the court has jurisdiction because the FSIA covers violations of international law, such as forced property sales.

A Jewish refugee from Austria, Maria Altmann, used this law in 2000 to recover paintings by Gustav Klimt. She successfully fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was then awarded ownership by an Austrian court of arbitration.

“The fingerprints of Goering and Hitler are on this sale, the dealers had no chance,” restitution lawyer Markus Stoetzel said.

The Jewish dealers sold the works to the state of Prussia for 35 percent of its value, lawyer Nicholas O'Donnell said.

Ingolf Kern, a spokesman for the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said he was surprised by the move, given that the advisory commission had found the price was reasonable.

The consortium of dealers bought 82 pieces in 1929 for 7.5 million Reich marks and then sold 40 for 2.5 million marks. The Prussian state paid 4.25 million marks for the rest in 1934-35.

The commission said the market was depressed in the early 1930s, Prussia was the only interested buyer and the works were stored in Amsterdam at the time, although the dealers were based in Germany.

This month Berlin designated the Guelph Treasure of national cultural value, making it impossible for it to leave the country without the approval of the culture ministry.

“If they were so sure they owned it, they wouldn't need to do this,” said O'Donnell.

Kern argued, however, that this was a logical move for Germany's most precious artefacts.

Germany has faced criticism for its handling of artworks looted by the Nazis, with some museums accused of reluctance to research the provenance of suspect works.

Bombing the death camps during World War II


Every decade, someone indignantly tells us that the United States and Britain should have bombed the rail lines at Auschwitz and other death camps during World War II. They imagine modern GPS-guided bombs that are accurate enough to enter a window. They think World War II bombs had the same accuracy.

As Auschwitz Liberation Day (Jan. 27) approaches, it is time to put such notions to rest, once and for all.

During World War II, the only accurate way to deliver bombs (all unguided) was with a dive bomber that attempted to fly perfectly vertical, release the bomb at an altitude of a few thousand feet, then pull out without hitting the ground, and escape the blast. Their radius of action was about 200 miles. Bombing errors were by half a mile because of the difficulty of maintaining a vertical trajectory, and the cross winds. The Germans used dive bombers because their airfields were close to Poland and Russia. The German Stuka had dive brakes (deployable flat panels) on the wings to slow the aircraft’s vertical fall. The vibrating dive brakes and wind vortices caused a characteristic screaming sound.

Failure to bomb the camps was not an anti-Jewish conspiracy. It was a rational strategy to deploy long-range bombers where they could help win the war, even by carpet bombing German civilians near their factories.

However, dive bombers did not have the range to reach concentration camps or other German targets from British bases. American and British bombing was done with long-range multiengine bombers from altitudes of about 25,000 feet. The aircraft flew at those altitudes trying to stay above the German flak (anti-aircraft fire, usually radar-directed) and interceptors. High-altitude bombing errors were considerably greater than three miles. The art of “error analysis” was invented during the war to account for the aircraft’s ground speed at the time of release, for winds aloft and their variation as the bomb fell to earth in about three minutes, and for weather that sometimes obscured the targets. Other errors were due to the pilot’s inability to fly precisely over the targeted point, by the release of bombs in strings over an interval of about five seconds (at 250 feet per second airspeed, that is a spread on the ground of more than a thousand feet). Formation flight ensured that only one aircraft could be precisely over the desired release point. Other errors were caused by pitch and crab of the aircraft at the time of release, by manufacturing tolerances in the bombs (especially the fins) and by a host of smaller factors. The individual errors were combined statistically and compared to observed impact errors. The observed CEP (Circular Error Probable, a circle containing half of the impacts) was greater than three miles radius. Night bombing was even less accurate but offered some protection against flak and German interceptors. After the war, there were conflicting reports about the effectiveness of bombing.

The probability of hitting a rail line that is 4.8 feet wide from 25,000 feet was infinitesimally small. Hence, salvos of bombs were released — carpet bombing — so bombs targeted at rail lines would also have fallen on the prisoners’ dormitories, hospitals, offices and factories, killing hundreds of prisoners and making life even more miserable for the survivors. The Germans would have relished telling the world that the Allies were killing their prisoners.

Even if a rail line was hit, the prisoners would have been organized to remove the bent rails and ties, then lay new ballast, ties and track. Repair of a rail line would have taken less than three days.

Dwindling numbers of ex-inmates and emigres who fled German-occupied Europe survived. Most were Jews fleeing the occupied countries where the Germans imposed an irrational, unproductive campaign to murder all the Jews under their control. Today, some of these people periodically complain that failure to bomb the camps was to ignore the plight of the Jewish inmates. They are nontechnical people whose emotions outweigh their reason.

Failure to bomb the camps was not an anti-Jewish conspiracy. It was a rational strategy to deploy long-range bombers where they could help win the war, even by carpet bombing German civilians near their factories. Revisionist humanitarians are influenced by GPS-guided precision bombing since the 1990s and by images of dive bombing in World War II.


Myron Kayton is a retired graduate licensed engineer who worked on the electronics for the Apollo Lunar Module, Space Shuttle, and other spacecraft and aircraft. He is past president of the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society and of the Harvard Club of Southern California. He holds a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zara ‘sorry’ for t-shirt that looks like Nazi camp uniform


Global fashion chain Zara, owned by Spain's Inditex, pulled from sale on Wednesday a striped children's top decorated with a large six-pointed star after it was likened to uniforms worn by Jewish concentration camp inmates in Nazi Germany.

The shirt, bearing horizontal blue and white stripes, was on sale online in three European countries but not in Israel, an Inditex spokeswoman said. The resemblance was unintentional and the design had been inspired by sheriff's stars from classic Western films, she said.

Within hours of the t-shirt being put up for sale, some newspapers had picked up on its resemblance to concentration camp uniforms and messages were posted on Twitter criticising the design.

“The shirt bears a large six-pointed star on the upper-left section, in the exact place where Nazis forced Jews to wear the Star of David,” wrote Israeli newspaper Haaretz, calling the garment “hauntingly reminiscent of a darker era”.

On its website, Haaretz displayed a photograph of part of a uniform worn by prisoners at Auschwitz, showing a jacket with vertical green and white stripes and a yellow star below the left shoulder bearing the word “Jude,” the German word for Jew.

Just days ago Zara, which has over 2,000 stores in 88 countries worldwide, withdrew a t-shirt bearing the slogan 'White is the new black'.

Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

A sunken Nazi sub discovered off Texas coast


In a shocking reminder of how close the Second World War came to America, a German U-boat has been discovered by marine archaeologists working off the shores of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.

That Nazi subs once prowled the Gulf of Mexico may come as a bit of surprise to Americans.

“And there's a very good reason,” said shipwreck diver Richie Kohler in a WFAA video. “The United States government didn't want us to know. They didn't want us to know how Germany was taking us to task, how successful these U-boats were.”

Read more on io9.com.

In eye of Nazi storm, Dutch Jews found unlikely refugee


In her nightmares, Tilly Walvis pictured German soldiers storming the house where she was hiding and deporting her children and the Christian couple sheltering them.

Walvis had good reason to fear. At the time, her family was living in the home of Albert and Frederika Santing in Hoensbroek, a Dutch town in the southeastern province of Limburg. Next door lived a family of Dutch Nazis, and delivering the hidden Jews to the German occupation forces would have meant praises and a handsome reward.

Fortunately for Walvis, the soldier who entered the house in 1944 was American, and he was looking for Nazis, not Jews. According to an account from the Yad Vashem Holocaust center in Jerusalem, Walvis sought to assure him they were not hostile, so she told him in English that she was Jewish.

“Me too,” he replied, bringing tears of joy to Walvis’ eyes and wild cries of excitement from the other family members.

Walvis was among 2,200 Dutch and German Jews who survived the Holocaust in Limburg, a narrow sliver of a province near the Belgian and German borders that recent research has revealed to have been the safest place for Jews in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. Approximately 10 percent of Jews who went into hiding in Limburg were caught, roughly one-third the rate of Amsterdam. 

Not only did Jews in Limburg survive the war in higher proportions than the rest of the Netherlands, but the region actually had more Jewish residents after the Holocaust than before, according to Herman van Rens, an amateur Dutch historian whose recent book, “Persecuted in Limburg,” was published last year ahead of the 70th anniversary of the region’s liberation.

Yet the story of the Holocaust in Limburg had remained unrecorded until van Rens and his wife, Annelies, began painstakingly collecting lists of Jews from dozens of municipal archives across the province. Through their work, the van Rens were able to show Limburg had twice as many Jews in hiding than previously thought.

In 1933, the Jewish population in Limburg stood at 800. Two waves of refugees — Germans before the war and Dutch following the German invasion — brought the Jewish population to 2,200 by 1945, according to van Rens. The 46 percent growth stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Netherlands, which lost 75 percent of its Jews in the Holocaust — a death rate matched in Western Europe only by Germany itself, with 88 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Limburg residents speak a unique dialect and share a proud tradition of tight-knit communities with little anonymity — characteristics that van Rens believes contributed to their willingness to take risks to save Jews.

“When you betrayed someone to death in Limburg, everybody knew and it carried different social implications than in Amsterdam,” van Rens told JTA.

The sentiment was so strong that Limburg police had virtually stopped proactive attempts to track down Jews by 1943, at a time when special bounty hunter units were stepping up efforts to catch Jews elsewhere in the Netherlands, among other countries.

In Amsterdam, a group known as the Henneicke Column received 7.5 guldens for every Jew delivered to the Germans. The price was later upped to 40 guldens. The group is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 8,000-9,000 Jews.

In addition to offering refuge, Limburg also promised  Jews a path out of Nazi-controlled areas altogether. The area is not as densely populated and flat as the rest of the Netherlands, and its limestone caves lead across the border to Belgium. In addition to those who hid in Limburg, approximately 3,000 Jews passed through the province on their way to Spain and Switzerland.

Van Rens also discovered another difference that he believes is key to understanding the high mortality rates elsewhere and to challenging the notion that Dutch Jews went like lambs to the slaughter.

“Unlike in Amsterdam and the northern Netherlands, where most Jews were rounded up by police who showed up one night unannounced at their doorstep and simply took them away, Limburg Jews received more time before they needed to report for deportation,” van Rens said.

In 1942, Limburg Jews under 60 received 24 hours to report to police. More than half didn’t show up, instead opting to go into hiding. A few months later, older Jews were given a week to report to police. Then, too, more than half went into hiding.

“So the perception of Dutch Jews being too docile, too obedient, clearly doesn’t hold up because when they were given a chance, even if just 24 hours, to save themselves, most made serious attempts to escape the Nazis’ claws,” van Rens said. “For me it was an encouraging discovery.”

Van Rens’ research has generated new interest in the Holocaust and won praise from some of Holland’s leading experts on the Holocaust, including Johannes Houwink ten Cate of the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, or NIOD, who called van Rens’ research “beyond question.”

“No one had the patience to conduct such detailed research before,” ten Cate said. “It’s drudgery.”

Hunt for Nazi art shows museum failings, former minister says


A German pensioner's decision to let experts check his art trove for Nazi-looted treasures contrasts sharply with the approach of some museums that may hold works stolen from Holocaust victims, a former minister said on Tuesday.

Over 2,000 German museums hold works created before 1945 and acquired after the Nazis came to power in 1933, according to the Institute for Museum Research in Berlin. Some of them could have been looted or extorted from Jewish owners by the Nazis.

But only 285 museums, or less than five percent, have researched the ownership history of such works.

“It's not as if museums haven't been doing anything, but because of budget issues, they haven't done as much as they could have,” Michael Naumann, a former German culture minister, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Elderly recluse Cornelius Gurlitt, whose hoard of some 1,400 art works was discovered in February 2012 in his Munich flat and confiscated by authorities in a tax probe, agreed on Monday to allow a task force of art experts to study the collection.

In exchange for his cooperation Gurlitt, whose art dealer father took orders from Adolf Hitler to buy and sell so-called 'degenerate art' to fund Nazi activities, will get back those works whose provenance is not in doubt.

Gurlitt also agreed to waive Germany's 30-year statute of limitations, under which he could be considered the legal owner of the paintings.

ACCELERATE RESEARCH

Gurlitt's move should “inspire those who own looted art to act morally”, Naumann said. But he added there should also be legislative possibilities to accelerate provenance research.

The German government and the state of Bavaria have agreed to pay for research of the works found in Gurlitt's apartment and for any additional works not yet confiscated.

In January, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder accused German museums of neglecting their duty to come clean about works they hold that were looted from Jews by the Nazis.

“They know what's been stolen,” Lauder told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Berlin. “And what they've been doing is turning a blind eye.”

Since 2008, Germany's Bureau for Provenance Research has offered funds to study the ownership of cultural artifacts in public collections. As of January 2013, only 58 applications from museums had been submitted.

In an interview with Spiegel Online last month, Monika Gruetters, Germany's culture minister, said she had doubled the bureau's 2014 budget for such projects to four million euros ($5.52 million), with additional resources and structures planned for 2015.

She said experience gained through the research of Gurlitt's collection would help guide a future national centre she hoped to establish to support public organisations in the search for Nazi-looted art in their collections. ($1 = 0.7249 Euros)

Reporting By Monica Raymunt; Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan

Survivor: Fred Wolf


At 5 a.m. on Nov. 9, 1938, Manfred (Fred) Wolf was awakened by loud banging on the front door of their home in Merl an der Mosel, Germany. He looked out his upstairs window to see two Brownshirts, members of a Nazi militia, standing below with bayoneted guns. “Ed Wolf, you have to come out,” they shouted to Fred’s father. Fred, then 14, watched as his father exited the house and was led away. Fred asked his stepmother what she wanted him to do. “Manfred, there’s nothing you can do. Go to school,” she answered. 

Fred was born on July 15, 1924, in Merl an der Mosel to Ed and Rika Frankel Wolf. Fred’s family lived in a three-story house with his paternal grandmother; the family business, a men’s clothing store where Ed was a salesman, occupied the first floor. 

One of only two Jewish families in Merl, the Wolfs were observant, though only Fred’s grandmother was strictly Orthodox. 

The family interacted mostly amicably with the 1,500 residents of their town until 1933, when Hitler came to power. Fred remembers Nazis marching through the streets singing anti-Semitic songs, always stopping in front of their house. 

One day in 1935, Fred’s mother was reading the newspaper next to an open stove when her skirt caught fire. She was hospitalized with burns covering more than 85 percent of her body.  Several weeks later, on a Shabbat morning, Fred woke up to screaming and crying. His father told him that his mother had died. Fred hugged his father and said, “I still have you.” He was 11 years old.

After a year, Ed remarried, to a woman named Johanna Levy. “I liked her very much,” Fred recalled.

Bicycling home from school in Zell, the next town over, on Nov. 9, 1938, Fred was stopped by some school chums. “Manfred, don’t go home. Something terrible will happen to you,” they warned. Fred returned to Zell; he waited until dark and walked home.

The house was pitch-black and in shambles. “Every step I walked was full of glass,” Fred remembered. His stepmother came downstairs and hugged him. That night became known as the notorious Kristallnacht. 

Fred and his stepmother later learned that Ed had been taken to Dachau, but he was released after five weeks. At his father’s urging, Fred traveled to Cologne, where he joined a kibbutz, or camp, that was part of the Zionist youth movement’s Hakhshara (preparation) program to give young people the agricultural and technical skills necessary for immigration to Palestine. There, Fred learned to be a machinist.

When the kibbutz closed several months later, Fred left for another kibbutz in Schniebinchen, where he cut down trees. The Schniebinchen group then moved to a farm, where they harvested potatoes and sugar beets.

In the summer of 1939, the entire group was sent to a labor camp in Paderborn, where they worked for the city — cleaning streets, shoveling dirt from the sewers and even making marmalade. “We were treated well,” Fred said.

Fred was still in Paderborn in 1942, when he received a telephone call from his father, who was living in Cologne. “We will be evacuated within the next four or five days. Do you want to come with us?” Ed asked. Fred knew what this meant. “Papa, I think I can help you from here wherever you go,” he said, wanting to be kind. That was the last time he spoke to his parents. He was 18. 

In March 1943, Fred’s group was evacuated to Bielefeld, then sent in open boxcars to
Auschwitz, arriving at night.

Raus, raus,” the guards shouted. “Out, out.” Fred came face to face with a German officer wearing polished blacks boots and carrying a horsewhip. “How old are you?” the officer asked. “Eighteen,” Fred answered, clicking his heels. The officer, who Fred later learned was Dr. Josef Mengele, ascertained he could work and permitted him to stay.

Loaded onto a military truck with other young men, Fred gazed at the stars. “God, what did I do?” he asked himself. “I’m a Jew. That’s all.”

The prisoners were brought to Buna or Auschwitz III, a subcamp of Auschwitz, which, in November 1943, became a full-fledged concentration camp. As they were being processed, the SS ordered them to hand over any jewelry. Fred took the watch his grandmother had given him for his bar mitzvah and smashed it against a washbasin. 

One day soon after arriving, Fred was ordered to stay behind when others went off to work, to clean the barracks. Two prisoners with black triangles on their uniforms suddenly approached him. “Put your pants down. Bend over,” one said.  He held Fred’s head while the other prisoner raped him. 

Fred worked as an electrician in the IG Farben factory, working among non-Jewish Poles who hated him. 

In his next kommando (detail) assignment, he had to run up a plank to a train car, bend over for kapos to place a 50-kilo (110 pounds) sack of cement on his back and run down the plank. At the end of the first 12-hour day, completely dispirited, he purposefully injured his eye by looking into a welder’s flame and went to the infirmary. But he left when a friend warned that the SS would take him. 

Outside, standing alone, he began to cry.  A Polish-Jewish kapo, Harry Naftaniel, befriended him.

Harry suggested Fred volunteer for a roofing kommando. He, Harry and others were taken to Sosnowitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz, where they repaired the roofs of three barracks. Fred then worked in a factory assembling anti-aircraft guns.

In January 1945, as Soviet troops approached, they were forced to join a death march, sleeping at night in the snow. Near the Czechoslovakian border, the Nazis loaded them into cattle cars and took them to Mauthausen. 

When they arrived, Fred was given a pair of shoes. When he put them on, one shoe bothered him, and when he took it off, the heel fell off to reveal a hidden cache of diamonds and gold pieces. Fred’s friend Harry took the jewelry to an SS officer, who, in exchange, gave him salami, bread and cheese, which the men shared.

From Mauthausen, Fred was taken by boxcar to another camp, where he worked in an underground cave on the fuselages of Messerschmitt Me 262s. 

There, Fred was mistakenly given a uniform with a red triangle, which marked him as a communist. “How come you have this triangle?” a kapo asked, ordering 25 lashes. When Fred returned to the barracks, the head kapo ordered another 25 lashes; Fred passed out. 

From Mauthausen, the prisoners were marched to Gunskirchen, a small, overcrowded subcamp in Upper Austria. American troops liberated the camp on May 4, 1945. 

Eventually, with the help of the Haganah, Fred made his way to Genoa, Italy, where he boarded an illegal ship to Haifa and later reconnected with his Uncle Max, his father’s youngest brother. Fred fought in Israel’s War of Independence. 

By 1951, Fred returned to Germany to determine if ownership of the family’s house in Merl, which his father had been forced to give to the town’s most powerful Nazi, could be restored. He was not successful. But while in Cologne, he met Sonya Berger, and six months later they were married. In January 1953, their daughter, Rita, was born. 

In April 1954, sponsored by a family from their synagogue in Zell who was then living in Erie, Penn., Fred and Sonya immigrated to the United States. They also settled in Erie, where their son, Eddie, was born in July 1955. 

A year later, searching for more economic opportunities, they moved to Los Angeles, where a cousin of Fred’s lived. Fred worked for several aerospace companies and then owned and ran the Cork and Bottle liquor store in Venice for 30 years, selling the business in 1993 after Sonya died. In 2001, Fred got a job as a bagger for Gelson’s in Pacific Palisades, retiring in March 2013.
Fred met Calia Mintzer at a Culver City Senior Center dance in 2002, and they married in January 2010. She has four daughters, eight grandchildren and five great-children. Fred has three grandchildren. 

Throughout the years, Fred has spoken to school groups and individuals about his Holocaust experiences. Today, at 89, he continues to tell his story. 

“I hope people will understand what we had to go through with those God-damned Nazis,” he said.

German WW II film shows war is hell — win or lose


The victors in any war write its history, so the saying goes. But what about the loser’s story?

Germany was the loser in World War II, on the fighting front and the home front. Nowhere has this aspect of the war been told as graphically, accurately and powerfully as in the film “Generation War” — and I say this having grown up a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany and fighting as an American infantryman in Europe a few years later.

War is hell (and boring) everywhere, but the German-Russian front was a slaughterhouse from beginning to end. The Soviets lost around 25 million soldiers and civilians and inflicted some 75 percent of all German wartime casualties of more than 5 million.

“Generation War,” which opens this weekend at the Nuart Theatre, first launched as a television series in Germany last year; it runs four and a half hours and is divided into two parts: In German, part one is titled “Our Mothers,” and part two is “Our Fathers.”

The opening scene is set in a Berlin bar during the summer of 1941, where five friends who grew up in the same neighborhood are throwing a farewell party.

Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) and his younger brother, Friedhelm (Tom Schilling), wear Wehrmacht uniforms and are about to be deployed to the newly opened Russian front. The two young women are Charlotte (Miriam Stein), a patriotic nurse, and Greta (Katharina Schüttler), a singer who aspires to become a second Marlene Dietrich.

Greta is in love with the most surprising of the five friends, given the time and place: Viktor, the son of a Jewish tailor.

The Fuhrer himself has promised that the war would be over by Christmas, and the five buddies promise to reunite on that date at the same pub. Despite a bar sign saying “Swing Dancing Forbidden,” they dance and drink the night away.

After that lighthearted beginning, the film switches back and forth between the fighting and home fronts, steadily darkening. Following massive initial victories by the German armies, Soviet resistance stiffens, bitter cold sets in, and commanders on both sides waste soldiers’ lives as if they were gambling chips.

As the fortunes of war change, so do the characters of the friends.

Wilhelm, now a lieutenant, is the personification of the ideal officer — level-headed, cool and patriotic.

Younger brother Friedhelm is his opposite, a bookish skeptic who shirks dangerous missions and is beaten up by his comrades in response.

Then, after years in the trenches, Wilhelm, fed up with the senseless sacrificing of his troops and the killing of women and children by the SS, deserts his unit.

In reverse, the once sensitive and liberal Friedhelm snaps and turns into a nihilistic killer.

Charlotte volunteers to become a nurse at a field hospital near the frontlines, where she, and the viewer, get horrifying close-ups of the cost of war. When the screams of the wounded become too much, the surgeon in charge orders the radio music turned up.

Greta fulfills her dream of becoming a famous singer and has an affair with a sadistic SS officer working with the Gestapo in order to obtain an exit visa and passport through him for her lover, Viktor (Ludwig Trepte).

But Viktor’s escape is foiled, and he is crammed onto a train heading for Auschwitz. Together with a Polish girl, he chops a hole into the wagon floor, despite the pleas of the others that he will get them into trouble.

Viktor makes his escape and joins a group of Polish partisans, who are not sure who they hate more — the Russians, the Germans or the Jews.

At war’s end, in rubble-strewn Berlin, the friends — not all of whom made it back — reunite in the shattered bar.

Regardless of the friends’ individual fates, the only one to escape the war morally uncompromised is Viktor, the Jew — the one person painted as subhuman throughout the Nazi period.

In an ironic, and realistic, footnote, at war’s end, Viktor searches for Greta and visits an office tracking missing persons. Sitting behind the desk is the sadistic SS officer, now in a civilian suit. The American occupation administration has put him in charge, he explains, because of his extensive “experience.”

One of the few questionable aspects of the film is the close friendship of Viktor with his four “Aryan” friends, and their carousing together in a public bar in 1941, at a time when “Jews Not Wanted” signs and grotesque anti-Semitic caricatures were plastered on walls all over Germany.

Even if one grants that Berlin was the most cosmopolitan city in Germany, the jolly companionship between four Germans and a Jew appears to be one of the few unrealistic touches allowed by director Philipp Kadelbach and screenwriter Stefan Kolditz.

Otherwise, this is a film that repeatedly reminds us that it was the regular German army, not just the SS or Gestapo, that committed atrocities against Jews and others. In one small scene, someone asks a soldier what unit he belongs to, and he answers “the Ghost Legion.”

“So what do you do?” the soldier is asked, and he responds, “We make Jews disappear.”

At 57, Kolditz, born in East Germany after the war, is one of his country’s most prolific and successful writers, with some 30 movie and television plays on his résumé.

His father served with a German artillery unit on the Russian front and was one of the few such veterans to talk about the realities of war with his son.

“In general, the generation that fought in World War II did not speak about it with their children,” Kolditz said during a 90-minute phone interview. “We called them the ‘frozen generation.’ ”

Germans born after the war often turned on their parents and denounced them as “Nazi pigs” to their faces after becoming more aware of their country’s wartime atrocities.

To today’s younger generation, the Hitler era is an old story, remembered by old people, Kolditz observed, adding, “That’s one reason our TV series had such an impact on younger viewers, in particular. It showed that the ‘old people’ were also once young and not so different from themselves.

“To me,” Kolditz said, “writing the script was like having a conversation with my dead father.”

“Generation War” was originally presented in Germany as a three-part television series, each part 90 minutes long, and its warm and widespread reception was well above its creators’ expectations. The movie opened recently in Israel, where it received mixed reviews.

The strongest criticism has come from the Polish media, which resented the portrayal of Polish partisans as incorrigible anti-Semites — especially in a German film.

“I respect what the Poles went through,” Kolditz said, “ But if I paint the Germans of that generation realistically, I must also portray the Polish anti-Semitism of that time.”

Made for $22 million, “Generation War” is the most expensive German TV production ever, and it took eight years to complete. “If I had known it would take that long, I’m not sure I would have undertaken the project,” Kolditz said.

He is not through with the Holocaust era, though. Together with director Kadelbach, he is developing a TV movie based on the novel “Naked Among Wolves,” by Bruno Apitz, set in the Buchenwald concentration camp, where the inmates conspire to hide a 3-year-old boy from the Nazis.

“Generation War” opens Feb. 28 at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles for a one-week run; each of its two parts will be shown in separate screenings. For program information, phone (310) 281-8223 or visit

Germans own up to their dark past


Having been a loquacious debater on multiple continents, both in structured and everyday situations, I am well aware that the first rule of debate is universal. That is, never bring up Hitler or the Holocaust. Never liken any current event, or potential future event, to either of those two stains on history. Doing so draws eye rolls, scoffs, and an instant loss of credibility, especially when in discussion with non-Jews. Independent of the situation, the argument is always viewed as hyperbolic and unrealistic. To most, the Holocaust is uniquely terrible, and therefore has no business being brought up in intellectual discourse.

In the past, whether as part of a debate team or simply as a heated college student having an argument with a friend, I found this cardinal rule to be comforting.  The atrocities committed by Nazis during the World War II are not something that can be easily connected to everyday life. The world should remember the uniquely unspeakable cruelty the Jews, among others, had to endure in the not so distant past; the victims deserve at least as much. The multitude of memorials and museums in a myriad of countries around the world suggest the egregiously tragic event holds an especially infamous place in history.

Recently I traveled with several of my peers to Berlin. As it was my first time in Germany, I had made up my mind that I would spend my time trying to better understand what my ancestors had been forced to endure at the hands of Nazis.

I had expected the stories to be buried, but much to my surprise, it was an incredibly easy task to accomplish.

The Germans not only own up to their dark past, but they feature it prominently. In doing so, they provide a glaring warning to all never to get swept up in uncontrollable nationalistic fervor, never to value one life over another, and never to forget that the unthinkable can happen even in the midst of a seemingly civilized society.

It is something the US government would never properly do with regard to slavery, Japanese internment camps, the Trail of Tears, or any number of other horrible yet sanctioned institutions.

Seeing the German sentiment made me think twice about my comfort with the first rule of debate. Perhaps the Hitler argument should actually be used more often. Limiting the argument to suggest that what Jews, Catholics, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, and others experienced during World War II was unique goes against everything for which the new Germany fights. While the country has dedicated some of its most centralized spaces to remind us that we must always be wary of the evils man can commit, a de facto banning of the argument reinforces the idea that the Holocaust was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Unfortunately, that simply is not the case. Throughout history, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Rwandan genocide, multiple racial and ethnic groups have been experienced Holocaust-esque suffering. If anything, the Hitler argument must be given more credibility in order to stave off such horrors in the future.

And for the many who still cling to the idea that the Holocaust was one of a kind, for those who take a perverse comfort in the cult of victimology, imagining a future with similar terror is not difficult. After all, Nazis did not simply appear and call for the extermination of all who were not Aryan. For example, when the Nazis first starting implementing what we now know to be forced sterilization programs, they required “patients” to “voluntarily” request the procedure. We must recognize the beginnings of tyranny before tyrannical decisions are openly mandated, for at the latter point, it is already too late.

If we are afraid to use the Hitler argument for fear of being out of touch with current reality before injustice descends, we may be forgoing the chance to make the argument at all.

At the entrance to the Holocaust museum in Berlin, a quote by Primo Levi greets visitors: “It happened before, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” Instead of holding the Holocaust to be a unique phenomenon, instead of claiming it was a perfect storm of circumstances and that current government structures would never allow for anything like it again, we must realize that it can happen again.

But most importantly, we must keep that message alive not only through museums, but through the arguments we accept as valid in everyday discourse.

I gained a lot from my travels to Berlin. I learned how even the most civilized can be brainwashed. I learned how easily stable democratic entities can be overrun.

But most impactfully, I learned that the way to prevent future atrocities is to realize, accept, and propagate through our discussions that “it happened before, therefore it can happen again.”


Alexander Chaitoff is pursuing his Master of Public Health at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom as a 2013 Marshall Scholar. He will return home to Cleveland to begin medical school in July 2014.

Israeli lawmakers, Holocaust survivors tour Auschwitz


More than 50 members of the Israeli parliament toured the prisoner blocks at Auschwitz on Monday to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp.

The delegation was the biggest ever from the Knesset, the 120-seat Israeli parliament, to come to the camp in southern Poland where the Nazis killed some 1.5 million people between 1940 and 1945, most of them Jews.

The Knesset members were joined by Holocaust survivors, Israeli government ministers, Polish officials and representatives from dozens of other countries to mark the date, which is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Today, 69 years after we left this hell called Auschwitz, we are here again as proud people, as proud citizens of the new Jewish state that rose out of the ruins of European Jewry,” Israeli Auschwitz survivor Noah Klieger, 87, told a memorial ceremony.

Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Israeli delegation, said Jews must work to create for future generations “a different world, a hopeful future, a world without fear where a Jew will be safe in any and every place.

“If we lose the hope to build a new world, then we give in to Auschwitz,” he said.

Earlier, the Israeli delegates walked beneath a metal sign with the German words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free” — the same sight that greeted inmates arriving at the camp. All but a few survivors died in the gas chambers, in medical experiments, or from disease and malnutrition.

Monday's tour of the site included a stop at the prisoner blocks where piles of human hair and children's clothes have been preserved as evidence of the mass killings.

The Israeli visitors later marched to the nearby site of the Birkenau concentration camp for the memorial ceremony. They were scheduled afterwards to recite prayers and light candles for the victims.

Later on Monday, the Knesset delegation was due to visit the city of Krakow, where they will join Polish parliamentarians in a joint session dedicated to remembering the Holocaust.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Survivor: Karl Wozniak


One dark November evening in 1938, as 14-year-old Karl Wozniak and his younger brother, Max, left their Cologne apartment for a walk, they saw a fire burning in nearby Horst Wessel Park. They headed toward the flames and spied a group of Nazis standing around the fire. They stayed in the shadows, saying little, and soon returned home.

The next day, while walking to his job, Karl saw windows smashed at Jewish-owned businesses. In the shoe shop where he worked, Karl began picking up the shattered glass and machines turned upside down. “Why are you helping Jews clean up?” a Hitler youth screamed at him, thinking that Karl, with his blond hair, wasn’t Jewish. 

Later that day Karl learned that on the previous night, which became known as Kristallnacht, the Nazis had burned Sifrei Torah and books from the Roonstrasse Synagogue in the fire he’d witnessed. “I started to hate [the Nazis] more and more and more,” he recalled. 

Karl was born on June 26, 1924, in Cologne, Germany, to Yitzhak Leib and Malka Mendel Larish Wozniak, who had emigrated from Poland to Germany during the first world war. Karl was the fourth of five children. 

Both parents were tailors. The family was observant, attending services on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings at the Roonstrasse Synagogue, where Karl and Max sang in the choir.

Karl attended Jewish school, but, as a soccer player, he also had Christian friends. Things changed in 1933, however, when the Nazis came to power and Karl’s friends joined the Hitler Youth. 

In early 1938, the Jewish schools were closed. Around the same time, Karl’s father and older brothers, Elias and Leon, were relocated to Bedzin, Poland, and housed in a refugee center. 

Several weeks after Kristallnacht, Karl, Max and a friend went to the movies. With no ticket seller in sight, they entered the already darkened theater and sat down. “Furlough on Word of Honor,” a propagandistic World War I film, was playing. When the lights went on for intermission, Karl said, “We got the shock of our lives.” The theater was filled with Hitler Youth who began screaming, “Juden, Juden.” The three boys fled. 

In June 1939, Karl, his mother and Max traveled to Poland to reunite with the family. Once there, Elias was sent to Lodz, Karl’s parents and Max were sent to Lomza, and Karl and Leon were sent to Lida to work on a farm. 

On Sept. 1, 1939, while still in bed, Karl heard bombs falling and rushed outside. A German plane was flying so low he could see the pilot. Germany had invaded Poland.

About two months later, Karl’s father fetched him and Leon, and, along with Karl’s mother and Max, fled to Bialystock, in Soviet-occupied Poland. Elias soon joined them. (Karl’s older sister, Nelle, had been working in another city. They never learned her fate.) 

Karl’s father volunteered to work in Russia, and on Feb. 1, 1940, the family boarded a cattle car with 24 people. They traveled east, sleeping on the cold, straw-covered floor and, 24 days later, reached Magnitogorsk, a city near the Ural Mountains. Everyone was housed in a huge hall. After two months, Karl’s family was given one room in a barracks. 

Karl, 16, was assigned to a Stakhanovite brigade, named after Alexei Stakhanov, a miner who far exceeded his daily work quota. Eight hours a day, in temperatures 45 degrees below zero, he dug out frozen earth for factory foundations. “In my life, I never did this kind of work,” Karl recalled.

In late 1940, Karl was sent to a professional factory school, where he lived in a barracks and studied plumbing. Six months later, he was working in a factory.

Sometime in 1942, Elias and Leon were to sent to Chelyabinsk, 500 kilometers away. After awhile, the family received a letter that Leon had contracted pneumonia and died. “He was only 20. It was a big shock,” Karl said. 

Karl was later assigned to do guard work in another city. Then, in late 1944, he received orders to report to a Russian army camp in Sverdlovsk.

Three months later, Karl was sent to East Prussia with his unit of about 25 men to fight on the front, which was his wish. Suddenly he became ill with a high fever and was hospitalized. Recovering several days later, he left to join his unit, only to discover they had all been killed.

Karl joined another unit. They were stationed nine kilometers outside Königsberg, Germany, which the Russians were preparing to capture, and charged with keeping a long line of fires burning so Russian planes could spot German ground forces. They worked in the rain, with Germans shooting at them. 

Finally, after the Russian military had pounded Königsberg with bombs and Katyusha rockets, the soldiers were ordered to attack. They raced toward the city while the Germans shot at them with automatic rifles. “I saw the bullets whistling by. It was really dangerous,” Karl said, remembering stepping over thousands of dead bodies.
In Königsberg, with the nighttime sky lit up in flames, the soldiers continued fighting, Karl said, “street to street, house to house, room to room.” 

At one point, Karl was ordered to cross a bridge and deliver a letter to headquarters requesting reinforcements. As he was running across the bridge, the soldier accompanying him disappeared. Karl, however, returned safely. 

The Battle of Königsberg ended on April 9, 1945. The Russian general entrusted Karl with ensuring that the 4,000 German soldiers they had captured were not harmed. “If I would have known what the Nazis did to the Jews, I don’t know what I would have done to them,” he said.

After some time, the Russian soldiers began the trek home, walking 45 to 50 kilometers a day, with heavy backpacks. Eventually they reached Kiev, where, on Jan. 29, 1946, Karl was among thousands of people watching as six large trucks, each carrying two Nazis with nooses around their necks, pulled forward, leaving the 12 men hanging. 

In Kiev, Karl worked for a different general. Around June 1947, however, he joined his family, who had relocated to Walbrzych, in southwestern Poland. There he attended ORT, studying chauffeur mechanics.

In early January 1949, Karl left for Israel. He went straight into the Palmach, then part of the Israel Defense Forces, who were preparing to capture the West Bank but were stopped by the United Nations. 

After two short stints as a guard, Karl was ordered to join the Sanchanim, or paratroopers. From June 1949 to January 1951, he made 41 jumps.

Karl moved to Tel Aviv and worked as a driver at Timna Copper Mines headquarters. In 1954, he moved to Eilat, where he transported workers to and from the mines.

In spring 1960, Karl met Hildegarde Joseph, who was originally from Burma. They married the following Dec. 21, and their daughter Anita was born in 1961. 

In September 1962, Karl and Hildegarde moved to Los Angeles. Their son Jerome was born in 1965. 

Karl worked at Feldman Lighting until 1988. The following year, he and Hildegard opened a photo shop in Westwood, retiring in 2004. 

Today, Karl, 89, enjoys walking, watching sports, stamp collecting and spending time with his family, including five grandchildren and his brother Max.

On his honeymoon in 1960, Karl visited the rebuilt Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne. “I had goose bumps,” he said. “Most of the people didn’t make it. It was a very, very sad feeling.”

Survivor: Sol Liber


As soon as the train leaving the Warsaw Ghetto made its first stop, the 100 Jews packed into the cattle car with 19-year-old Sol Liber knew they were headed east to the Treblinka death camp. “Half the train was getting crazy,” said Sol, who recalls standing back from the tiny window in his car to let more air reach his older sisters, Tishel and Shayva, who were fainting. 

Hours later, the train pulled into the Treblinka station. “Raus, raus” (“Out, out”) the SS shouted, as dazed passengers exited the cars, lining up outside. “Give up your valuables,” other men ordered, holding an open blanket for the deposits. Amid what seemed to Sol utter chaos, the SS herded about 3,100 Jews toward the gas chambers. 

An SS tapped Sol on the shoulder, motioning for him to sit, cross-legged, with a group of men on nearby cement. From there, Sol watched his sisters walk with their arms around one another, unable to keep a straight line, until they disappeared behind a shrubbery-covered chain-link fence. “Ausziehen, ausziehen” (“Undress, undress”), he heard SS shouting from behind the fence. 

Sol and the remaining 500 men continued to wait while the cattle cars were cleaned. After two hours, Sol noticed everything was quiet. “Nothing. You could only hear the birds in the trees,” he said. It was late April 1943. 

Sol Liber was born on Dec. 3, 1923, in Grójec, Poland, to Sana and Shayndel Liber. He was the fifth of six children, and Sol’s father leased out orchards and sold the fruit in Warsaw. Their observant Orthodox family was poor; they lived in an apartment with just two small bedrooms and a kitchen. 

Sol fondly remembers Shabbat, and his mother lighting candles on Friday night and serving chicken soup and challah. The rest of the week, he said, “people were concentrating on putting food on the table.”

Sol attended a public school strictly for Jewish children, and also went to Hebrew school. At 13, he was apprenticed to a tailor, and he also attended night school for basic military training.

In early September 1939, Sol was standing in the family’s backyard when the Germans bombed the town’s flourmill. He escaped with his family to an orchard.

The next day, Nazi Einsatzgruppe soldiers picked up men ages 15 to 50, including Sol and his father. (Sol’s brothers had already been drafted into the Polish army.) They marched the 200 Jews and Poles from city to city, with little food and under harsh conditions. Finally, after Warsaw capitulated to the Germans, the prisoners were freed. Sol and his father returned home around Sukkot.

In Grójec, Sol was selected for forced labor, including spreading manure and clearing snow off the roads, both with his bare hands. By July 1940, the Germans had established a ghetto, where Sol lived in one room with his family. The was nothing to do, Sol said, except “just go to work and starve to death.” In February 1941 they were all transported in open trucks to the Warsaw ghetto. 

Sol was unable to find work. In the summer he escaped over an 8-foot fence — “[It] was a miracle,” Sol said — and walked to Bialobrzegi, another ghetto.

To survive, Sol sneaked out of the ghetto and begged food from farmers. One day he saw his father, who had also escaped from the Warsaw ghetto with Sol’s mother and younger sister Esther. They were renting a shack from a local Pole. 

In early 1942, Sol found a farmer who let him work in exchange for food. After three months, however, afraid of the consequences of harboring a Jew, the farmer released Sol, but gave him some money and food. 

Sol joined his brother Rafael, who was working on the railroad, but Rafael contracted typhoid fever and died two weeks later. Sol also came down with the disease, but he recovered and went to work in a nearby labor camp that served as an SS farm. Sol’s job was scrubbing four horses, which the Germans inspected with white gloves twice daily. They invariably found dust and beat him, he said, “more than once.”

One morning, when the stable head hit Sol with a rope for half-dozing, Sol grabbed his pitchfork and thrust it in the man’s stomach, killing him. 

Sol ran, and made his way to a farm in Praga, outside Warsaw, where his sisters worked. Then, in the summer of 1942, they were all transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Sol and his sisters stayed together, living on Szczesliwa Street and working in a factory. Sol repaired gunshot holes in soldiers’ uniforms.

Sol soon learned about a resistance organization within the ghetto and was blindfolded and taken to see Mordechai Anielewicz, then second in command of the ZOB or Jewish Combat Organization. He was given a gun and taught to make Molotov cocktails. 

Early on April 19, 1943, the night of first seder, SS entered the ghetto, intending to liquidate it in three days. Instead, the Jews resisted. Sol tossed Molotov cocktails at the soldiers in his area. A few fell, and the rest retreated. Sol escaped to a bunker on his street.

The next day, German tanks entered the ghetto. From a rooftop, Sol hit one with a Molotov cocktail. That night, Sol was ordered to blow up an airplane parts factory on Niska Street. He and four others left the bunker, and to avoid making noise on pavement littered with broken glass, they walked in their stocking feet to the factory, where they broke four windows and threw in cocktails. “The factory went up in flames,” Sol said. 

A few nights later, Sol and a few others took a small group of teenagers to a sewer entrance, to allow the young people to escape. But when they approached the manhole, they smelled gas. Someone had ratted on them, and the Germans opened fire. Sol hit the ground, but a bullet penetrated his shoulder. 

The group made it to the Szczesliwa Street bunker, where about 80 people were hiding. But the SS later opened the trap door and threatened to blow them up. Everyone exited with his hands up. “I thought it was over,” Sol recalled. But the SS instead shot the 13-year-old Jewish boy who had squealed.

The group was marched to the Umschlagplatz, the main train depot, and the next day transported to Treblinka. Sol also knew that his parents and sister Esther had earlier been taken from Bialobrzegi to Treblinka. 

In Treblinka, Sol and the other men had been selected to clean up the Warsaw Ghetto. But when the Germans learned that 500 Greek Jews had already been dispatched, they sent Sol’s group to Majdanek. 

There, in the mornings, Sol moved stones from one side of a field to the other. In the afternoons, he took the stones back. “Majdanek was a torture camp, not a work camp,” he said.

Fearing a particular kapo was going to kill him, Sol traded his bread for another prisoner’s job of “breaking boots” for German soldiers. He walked all day in new boots with no socks as his feet bled.

A friend then found him a job in the horse barracks, putting away prisoners’ straw sleeping sacks.

One Sunday, a drunk SS entered the barracks to break in a new whip — wire covered with leather. Sol was selected and received 25 lashes. He couldn’t sit down for weeks. 

A couple months later, in fall 1943, Sol volunteered to go to an ammunition factory in Skarzysko-Kamienna. There he worked hardening steel for machinery, one of the better jobs.

In August 1944, with the Russian front approaching, the prisoners were ordered to pack the machinery on flat cars and depart. 

They came to the Hasag forced labor camp in Czestochowa. There Sol loaded items for the Russian front. Then, in mid-January 1945, as the Russians again advanced — Sol could hear “the terrible whistling noise of the Katyusha rockets” — the SS evacuated the camp, packing the prisoners onto cattle cars.

Sol reached Buchenwald on Jan. 20, 1945. The camp was overcrowded and bitter cold. “People were dying like flies,” Sol said. 

About seven weeks later, Sol, along with 125 or so prisoners, was transported to a labor camp near the Czechoslovakian border. “It was like Siberia,” Sol recalled. “Snow and barracks.” His job was to haul machinery down a small elevator into empty salt mine shafts, a difficult task. 

In mid-May 1945 the prisoners were evacuated and forced to march from sunrise to sunset, sleeping in fields. Sol walked in shoes with no socks and was also forced to carry a rucksack and an unloaded rifle for an SS. After three weeks, on June 6, 1945, they were liberated by the Russians in Annaberg, Germany. Sol was 21.

He eventually joined his brother Yitzhak at the Eggenfelden displaced persons camp in Germany, staying for three years. In June 1949, he sailed to Canada, settling in Montreal, where he met Bella Bezonsky. They married on June 14, 1953. Their son Sheldon was born in 1956, daughter Susan in 1957 and son Rodney in 1963.

Sol and his family moved to California on Dec. 25, 1957. Sol worked as a tailor and then bought his own factory, S&D Fashions in downtown Los Angeles. In 1980, he sold the factory and semi-retired. 

Sol, who turns 90 on Dec. 3, enjoys walking and spending time with his children and eight grandchildren. He considers himself a “Holocaust walking encyclopedia,” but still doesn’t know if any of the 500 men who survived Treblinka with him are still alive.

“The will to live. You’ll try everything,” he said.

Survivors to mark 75th anniversary of Kindertransport


On the evening of Dec. 2, a small group of elderly men and women, some with their children and grandchildren, will gather at a Burbank mall to mark the 75th anniversary of a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, episode of the Nazi era, known as the Kindertransport (in English, Children’s Transport).

Susanne Goldsmith, 82, will be there, and so will Abraham (Abe) Sommer, 89, to recall the events of 1938 and 1939, when nearly 10,000 young Jews from Nazi-dominated Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia climbed aboard trains to find refuge in Great Britain.

In a world that generally closed its borders to Jews fleeing Hitler, the British offer to admit the children, following the mass pogrom of Kristallnacht, was a rare humanitarian gesture, but it carried a wrenching price.

The offer allowed for the admission of children only between ages 2 and 16, but not their parents or older siblings. Each family had to decide whether to send young children to be cared for by absolute strangers in a foreign land, with no assurance that parents and children would ever be reunited.

The first Kindertransport carried 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that was destroyed by Nazi mobs during the Nov. 9-10 Kristallnacht. The group arrived in England on Dec. 2, 1938, less than a month after the night of arson and murder.

On Dec. 10, at the main train station in Vienna, 7-year-old Susanne Weiss (later Goldsmith) and her 9-year-old brother, Peter, bid their parents goodbye, in the first Kindertransport from Vienna, which was organized by British Quakers.

Goldsmith, now a resident of Burbank, recalled, “I cried all the way” — or at least until the train crossed the border into Holland, where a group of Dutch women distributed a then luxurious repast of thick slices of rye bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with chocolate.

Abe Sommer, who now lives in West Los Angeles, came aboard on the last Kindertransport to leave Vienna on Aug. 24, 1939. It arrived in London on Sept. 1, as newspaper boys were shouting that Germany had invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and Germany were at war, spelling the end of the Kindertransport.

Even given the innumerable victories, defeats and catastrophes in the ongoing commemorations of World War II, the Kindertransport events still retain their hold on the imagination, particularly among writers and artists.

One who could not forget was TV producer Deborah Oppenheimer. When her mother was 11, she boarded a Kindertransport train in Germany, amid tearful assurances that the family would soon be reunited. Along with 90 percent of the evacuated children, Oppenheimer’s mother never saw her parents again.

Whenever Deborah tried to ask her mother about that part of her life, the mother broke into tears, so the child stopped asking. But after her mother’s death, Oppenheimer decided to find out all she could about the Kindertransport.

Viennese children on their arrival in London. Photo courtesy of the Austrian National Library

The result was the film “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport,” which won the 2000 Academy Award for best documentary feature.

“At first, the kinder (shorthand for the Kindertransport evacuees) didn’t want to talk about their wartime experiences, feeling that these were insignificant compared to the suffering during the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million children,” Oppenheimer said in an interview last week. “Many didn’t start opening up until they reached their 70s or 80s.”

Oppenheimer, now executive vice president of Carnival Films and appointed last year by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, explained the appeal of their story today:

“It is difficult to grasp the idea of 6 million murdered in the Holocaust,” she said, “but everyone can understand the suffering of a child suddenly ostracized by all her classmates or abruptly separated from her parents.”

Once the kinder arrived in England, their fate was decided by the luck of the draw.

Some found loving foster parents who scrimped to feed an extra mouth; others were exploited as servants. Some were housed in baronial estates, others in freezing holding camps waiting to be adopted at weekly “cattle market” inspections.

Goldsmith and her brother were among the lucky ones. Their new foster parents turned out to be a wealthy Jewish couple who picked up their new charges in a Rolls-Royce and housed them on a large estate along with eight other evacuated children.

“Our parents made it to England after the war started; we never asked how,” Goldsmith recalled. “They looked haggard, like refugees, and neither Peter nor I wanted to live with them.”

The family ties were eventually restored, and parents and children arrived in New York in early 1940. The Big Apple didn’t appeal to the family, but they couldn’t decide where else to relocate.

At that point, young Peter reminded his father that he had always enjoyed Giacomo Puccini’s opera “The Girl of the Golden West,” set in an imaginary mining camp during the California Gold Rush.

In short order, the family crossed the continent and settled in San Francisco.

Abe Sommer was less fortunate. On arrival, he was housed on a large farm in central England in one of many tents for refugees — shelters that did nothing to keep out the cold in the winter.

In 1943, Sommer joined the Pioneer Corps, an engineering auxiliary attached to the British army. For two years after the war ended, his assignment, ironically, was to supervise German prisoners of war.

He moved to Palestine in late 1947, worked on a kibbutz, and 10 years later moved to Los Angeles and established an automotive electrical shop in Beverly Hills. In 1994, he retired to his home in Beverlywood.

Sommer married a fellow Kindertransporter and after her death married another women with a similar background.

These days, the one-time refugee children try to keep in contact through the loosely organized Kindertransport Association (kindertransport.org), with small membership clusters in major cities in England, the United States, Australia and Germany.

There are no figures available on how many of the original kinder are still living.

In the Los Angeles area, one of the main activists is David Meyerhof, a retired teacher living in Burbank, whose 92-year-old mother is a Kindertransport alumna from Germany.

He and Goldsmith organized the local 75th anniversary commemoration, which will include a program of music, poetry and oral history, Meyerhof said.

The Dec. 2 event, part of the Temple Beth Emet Chanukah program, will start at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Burbank Media Center Mall, in front of the Burlington Coat Factory store at 245 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. The public is invited.

For additional information, contact David Meyerhof by e-mail at dmeyerhof@yahoo.com or by phone at (818) 261-2060.

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. 

Truth thief: The failures of ‘The Book Thief’


It’s not surprising that 20th Century Fox is launching an Oscar campaign for “The Book Thief,” a hauntingly beautiful film based on Markus Susak’s award-winning novel set in Nazi Germany.  The New York Post has called the film “Oscar bait.”

But I was disturbed by the film, and not for the right reasons. I wish it was because the film correctly represented the evil that ended more than 60 million lives, including 30 of my family, and psychologically damaged hundreds of millions more, some of whom became my patients. I wish I was disturbed because it highlighted the moral betrayal endured by righteous resistors of Nazism, some of whom were graduate students in a class I designed on the Psychology of the Holocaust.  

Instead, I was disturbed by how the film put a warm, cozy glow on the terrors of the Third Reich; by how it underrepresented evil and misrepresented goodness. It was, as New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden wrote, “Holocaust kitsch,” or better put by another reviewer, “unfiltered schmaltz.”

This touching movie fails because it is a fairy tale pretending to be real. There was little in this story that matched the real-world experiences of the survivors and children of perpetrators I have known personally or helped professionally. In fact, the actions, postures and tones of its characters violated basic physiological responses to trauma.  It is as if the studio spent millions for experts in film production but not a penny for an expert in psychological trauma.

Director Brian Percival explained that he chose this “positive” angle with the hope that the gentle portrayal of the German people will provide empathy for the German population who underwent Nazi rule. One way he elicited this empathy is by under-representing the rampant spread of anti-Semitism that infected all but the most robust Germans. In this fairy tale, people seem to join the Nazi Party solely for the better pay. Crowds appear neutral, hurling no invectives toward a Jew carried away by the Gestapo, or anyone trying to defend him. The Nazi epidemic is marginalized to the fringes of the population. It’s easier to have empathy for people in the middle of the bell curve. 

But by under-representing badness, the film under-represented goodness and the quiet, revolutionary act it had to be. The few who could resist Nazism would have had to keep their humanity in constant focus, hidden under guard. They never would have risked piquing the interest of neighbors by hauling snow inside their home to build a snowman in the basement to please a Jew hiding there. They would have lived with constant terror, every move carefully calculated to protect their humanity. Because of this discipline, they would have displayed moments when bravery and kindness emerged vigorously, not whimsically and impulsively.

In this fantasy movie, people acted normally, with a little more pain from a slightly more painful situation. But our response to extreme situations not only elicits an increase in stress, it changes us. It doesn’t just create a quantitative increase, it creates a qualitative shift. It’s not just a stressor, it’s an earthquake. It breaks us apart, and we reconstruct ourselves to either accommodate or resist the maliciousness.

Most humans who live under constant threat will end up accommodating the maliciousness. It’s not because it’s easier. We are physiologically hardwired to do whatever we must to survive. Our fight/flight system sends a cascade of chemicals through our nervous system, hijacking our brains to reallocate resources away from empathy and thoughtful decision making toward threat detection, violence and escape. Very few can override this necessary hardwiring, especially when it is driven by a widespread ideological virus, which the Nazi movement made sure to unleash and cultivate.

People who are referred to as “good” are able to override primitive fight and flight responses and keep enough resources for empathy and thoughtful decision making.  Those are the real heroes. But this phenomenon is so unlikely that Yad Vashem made a memorial for people able to do this. Out of 70 million Germans alive in 1939, only 525 were recognized as “Righteous Among Nations” — fewer than eight in a million.

So, while the director reached his goal — the audience did seem to respond with empathy for the Germans — it was an empathy for a whitewashed reality that didn’t and could never exist. Had the director not been driven by his own predisposition, he could have sharpened our focus on how good people actually act in the midst of extreme threat, and he could have intensified our empathy for them. But by wanting to spread empathy across the German population, he evoked an indiscriminate empathy for the Germans without standards or merit. Many of the parts for a movie worthy of Oscar consideration were present in this production — except the truth. 


Orli Peter is director and founder of the Center for Accelerated Psychology.