A haunting image from the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, where they marched chanting slogans such as "Jews will not replace us", and "Blood and Soil" a Nazi refrain.

Standing up to Nazis and The Wake-Up Call of Antisemitism


Nazis threatened a synagogue in Charlottesville…while the people were there praying.

The day after this photo was taken, Jews gathered for Shabbat services. They did not stand down, but came out in large numbers and were joined by non-Jews for support. The entire harrowing account of those who went to pray that scary Shabbat morning in Charlottesville is linked below. (Did you know, for example, the police refused to help protect the synagogue, though they knew hundreds or thousands on white supremacists were converging on the town?)

The synagogue president told Newsweek:

“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple,” he wrote. “Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either.”

Not only did armed protesters stand across from the synagogue, but neo-Nazis paraded past the building, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, a horrible reminder of Nazi Germany’s persecution and mass slaughter of European Jews.

“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Sieg Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols,” Zimmerman wrote.

I’ll post a link below of the whole story.

We live in remarkable times.

We live in remarkable times, because even while we spent many years studying the Holocaust and living, working and helping the Jewish communities of Poland and Eastern Europe — never did we see such a brazen display of hatred as was seen in America this past weekend. Never.

We live in remarkable times, because instead of fanning the flames of hate, leaders across America – Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, celebrities, TV anchors and religious groups denounced and condemned the rally and the open display of hatred and antisemitism.

We live in remarkable times, because many politicians and wide array of groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Republican & Democratic Jewish Coalitions, the ADL and others had to criticize the President for his response to a white supremacists’ rally and violence.

We live in remarkable times because days later, tens of thousands more people gathered at the same spot as the hate-rally, to preach tolerance.

We live in remarkable times because while acts of antisemitism are on the rise nationwide, powerful companies like Google, Apple, GoDaddy, and are taking a stand, donating money for anti-hate education and refusing to host websites for Nazis.

We live in remarkable times because it is now totally unacceptable to be an elected official in America and show support for the Klan or white supremacy groups.

We live in remarkable times.

Historically, when there is a rise in antisemitism, we have also looked inward and asked ourselves, how can we be doing better as a Jewish people? 

How can we care for one another more?

How can we up-our-game in our service of God?

And the answer is that if we are honest with ourselves and our community is that we can be doing better. 

Antisemitism is a wake-up call

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we are still in exile.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we can do more to live up to our mission.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we must pray to God for protection, sustenance, and blessing every single day.

Antisemitism is a wake-up call that we must increase our Tefillah- connecting with God, Teshuva – returning to our better selves, and Tzedakah – helping people in need and Jewish institutions in need.

We live in remarkable times. 

May God bless and preserve the United States, a country that has done for Jews than any other in History.

I hope you will join me in extra prayers for our COUNTRY and PEACE and SAFETY this Shabbat.

You can read the entire account of the synagogue in Charlottesville here

Adolf Hitler and other participants in the Hitler Putsch, during the annual anniversary celebration of his failed attempt to seize power. Behind Hitler stand Rudolf Hess (left) and Heinrich Himmler. Munich, Germany, November 9, 1934. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Munich 1923 / Charlottesville 2017


As a scholar of German-Jewish history, I’m reluctant to make overstated analogies with the past. But if I had to suggest a parallel, I would start in Munich in 1923. The Nazi party, founded three years earlier out of the political disillusionment of Germany’s loss in World War I, started to gain a foothold. It was one of many right-wing, nationalist parties vying for power in the nascent democracy of the Weimar Republic. Allied against liberal democratic principles, the Nazi party began to find a diverse base of support among artisans, merchants, civil servants, shop owners, war veterans and students. Members of the elite, including publishers, manufacturers, business owners and aristocrats, also were attracted by its nativist rhetoric and virulent anti-Semitism. Fueled by ethno-nationalism, rabid scapegoating and promises of greatness and rebirth, the Nazi party even had, as some historians have argued, an integrative function in German society during these early years. 

Composed almost entirely of men in their 20s and 30s who felt politically, economically and socially disenfranchised, the party relied heavily on hate rallies, thuggery, raucous speeches, racist newsletters and anti-democracy manifestos. Led from the very beginning by Hitler as a salvific figure, the Nazis marched throughout Germany; they gathered in beer halls and in streets, donning uniforms, sporting insignias of hate and marshalling military force. It would take another five or so years for its message of hate and nationalist regeneration to take hold in Germany as a truly popular political revolution. And it would be another five years after that until Hitler would be sworn in as chancellor of Germany.

I do not think President Donald Trump is Hitler, and we are not (quite) in 1933. But it has become abundantly clear that our president is an enabler of extremely dangerous rhetoric, ideas and actions. He has countenanced the shameless, meteoric rise — or better put, return — of American Nazis, who have reignited long-existing racist structures and catalyzed anti-immigrant and anti-Black movements in the United States. At the same time, Trump’s authoritarian behaviors have laid the groundwork for eroding our constitutional, democratic system of checks and balances with his attacks on the judiciary, the free press and anyone publicly opposing him.

His inexplicable reticence to come out immediately in condemnation of the white supremacists who gathered Aug. 11-12 in Charlottesville, Va., was appalling, and it was outdone only by his unconscionable press conference during which he condemned “both sides,” as if there are moral equivalencies between the violence of white supremacy and our country’s fundamental democratic values. 

It is clear that the rally was a carefully orchestrated assault — mounted as a visual and auditory spectacle — that aimed to normalize white supremacy. It sought to engender fear in nonwhites while galvanizing support among Trump’s Middle America for a form of Nazism that was palatable and perhaps even inspiring in its brazenness. While the rally made use of stock Nazi intimidation techniques (torches, flags, Hitler salutes and military militia) as well as racist rhetoric and nationalist slogans (“Blood and Soil”), it applied Nazi principles to propagate a new slogan of purity: “You [shouted as an accusatory ‘you!’] will not replace us!” To be sure, the Nazis might have said this, and they certainly would have felt the same way: You — the Jews, the Communists, the liberals, the immigrants, the homosexuals — will not replace us (the “true Germans” rooted in the “soil” of German land and endowed with a special right of existence above all others by virtue of the purity of “blood”). And at times, the slogan actually became: “Jews will not replace us!”

The generalized slogan plays directly on the fears of garden-variety Trump supporters from white Middle America: They fear affirmative action replacing white students; they fear immigrants taking their jobs; they fear diversity education replacing European education; they fear globalization replacing ethno-nationality; they fear feminism replacing patriarchy; they fear Islam replacing Christianity; they fear Black Lives Matter replacing the value of white lives; they fear Jews controlling capital and the media; they fear gay marriage replacing heteronormative families. “You will not replace us” is a slogan that makes certain parts of Nazism palatable to Trump’s Middle America because it mirrors a broader set of anxieties.

The rally was also an assault on higher education, particularly the value of the open, public university and the ideals of diversity, community, free inquiry and difference, which Richard Spencer explicitly has linked with corruption and ideology in his “manifesto” for the alt-right movement. As Spencer writes at the end of his manifesto: “Higher education … is only appropriate for a cognitive elite dedicated to truth.” Storming the university is a first step in enforcing its “truth” of white supremacy. America’s white supremacists consider themselves to be both victims and redeemers, the future embodiment of the “true America” sought by Trump and his die-hard supporters.

Let me return to Munich in 1923. After nearly a year of thuggish hate rallies, manifestos and virulently anti-Semitic speeches, the year ended with a failed coup by Hitler and members of the Nazi party in Munich. While in jail, Hitler came to the realization that Nazism would not come to power by a forceful revolution, but would need to be brought about legally. The Nazi party would eventually be elected by popular vote, by millions of people who stood behind its message of hate. It was hardly inevitable or preordained. The far-left, left and center parties had largely written off Hitler as a fringe lunatic who never would be taken seriously. They adopted a “wait-and-see attitude,” while fighting among themselves. The other nationalist parties on the right and far-right acquiesced, compromised and collaborated with the Nazis out of self-interest, enabling Hitler to come to power through a hastily concocted, coalition government.

Of course, the future is never a foregone conclusion. It remains open as long as we act to resist the normalization of white supremacy and stave off the scourge of Nazism. I send my gratitude to the thousands of brave men and women who resisted the Nazis in Charlottesville, who drowned out their messages of hate with messages of love, who risked their bodies and livelihoods in the name of our democracy. Resistance to hate is never futile. The essential difference between Munich in 1923 and Charlottesville in 2017 is that we resisted — forcefully and vocally — in solidarity. And we will resist again and again.


Todd Samuel Presner is professor of Germanic languages and comparative literature at UCLA and the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President, walks after a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 31, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

Rabbi who oversaw conversion of Ivanka Trump slams president’s response to Charlottesville


Haskel Lookstein, the New York rabbi who oversaw the conversion to Judaism of President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, criticized the president’s response to the violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Lookstein weighed in on the issue Wednesday along with other rabbis at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, a prominent modern Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan.

“We are appalled by this resurgence of bigotry and antisemitism, and the renewed vigor of the neo-Nazis, KKK, and alt-right,” the rabbis wrote in a letter to members of the synagogue and its affiliated Ramaz School. “While we avoid politics, we are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence.

“We pray that our country heeds the voices of tolerance, and stays true to its vision of human rights and civil rights.”

Far-right protesters converged on Charlottesville in defense of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and brawled with counterprotesters. Some of the protesters carried Nazi and Confederate flags, gave Nazi salutes, and expressed anti-Semitic and racists views.

After police broke up the the rally, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of the counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.

President Trump said at a news conference Tuesday that not all the participants in the rally were white supremacists. Confronted about whether he was putting white supremacists and neo-Nazis on the same “moral plane” as the liberal and leftist counterprotesters, he said, “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.” Trump seemed to backtrack from his statement a day earlier condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence.

Trump’s comments were widely criticized, including by Republicans and Jewish groups, and praised by white supremacists.

In addition to Lookstein, who is rabbi emeritus, the letter was signed by Kehilath Jeshurun Rabbis Chaim Steinmetz and Elie Weinstock. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner were longtime members of the Upper East Side synagogue before moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as White House aides. They reportedly tried and failed to convince Trump to moderate his comments on Charlottesville.

Lookstein last year agreed to give the invocation at the Republican National Convention, but later withdrewafter an outcry from modern Orthodox Jews and others.

In a letter to members at the time, he wrote, “Like my father before me, I have never been involved in politics. Politics divides people.”

In a widely viewed Vice documentary about the events in Charlottesville that aired Tuesday on HBO, Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist, expressed disgust with Donald Trump because he “gave his daughter to a Jew.”

Cantwell asked Vice News’ reporter Elspeth Reeve, “Do you think you could feel about race like I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl?”

Fritz Kuhn speaks at a Bund rally in April 1939 at Hindenburg Park in La Crescenta, CA.

Battling Nazis and white supremacists: A tale of two cities – Charlottesville and La Crescenta


La Crescenta, California is a long way from Charlottesville, Virginia, but both communities have recently had to deal with controversies involving Nazis, white supremacy, and the removal of a public monument that symbolized bigotry.  In Charlottesville, the controversy erupted in violence and became national news. In La Crescenta,  a suburb of Los Angeles, the dispute was resolved through spirited but nonviolent meetings and discussions. Not surprisingly, the La Crescenta experience generated few headlines.

Members of Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups descended on Charlottesville last weekend purportedly to preserve a 26-foot tall statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederal general and traitor to his country, erected in a local park that was once named after him.  The statue of Lee, on his horse with hat in hand, had stood in the park since 1924, a time of resurgent white supremacy, KKK activism, and lynching.  In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell and remove the statue and rechristen Lee Park as Emancipation Park.  Local white supremacists went to court to oppose the removal and a  circuit court judge issued an injunction prohibiting any sale or removal for six months.

Stopping the removal of the Lee statue was the excuse that Nazis and other white supremacists used to organize a march and rally in Charlottesville brandishing  torches, bats, and guns. One of them drove his  Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters that killed 32-year old Heather Heyer and injured  19 others.   The controversy was compounded when President Donald Trump refused to forcefully condemn the white supremacists, who then celebrated Trump’s remarks as signifying support for their views and actions.

This Friday – a week after the Nazis came to Charlottesville – people will gather in Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park to celebrate a victory over hate and bigotry.  A year ago, a sign at the park’s entrance said “Welcome to Hindenburg Park,” named for Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s president from 1925 to 1934 who appointed Adolf Hitler as German chancellor in 1933.  The sign was erected last year, paid for by a German-American group who claimed that it was intended to celebrate the area’s German American heritage.  But the sign failed to mention the park’s ugly past as a site of Nazi rallies and a Nazi youth camp during the 1930s.

Few people knew about the six-foot sign until the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation erected it in March 2016 at the park’s entrance near the corner of Honolulu and Dunsmore avenues in La Crescenta, an unincorporated section of LA County, adjacent to Glendale.

The sign greeted visitors with the words “Willkommen zum,” written in a German typeface, followed by “Welcome to Hindenburg Park,” and below that “The Historic German Section of Crescenta Valley Park.” At the bottom of the sign was the county’s official seal and the words “Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.” 

Despite the official seal, the county did not pay for the sign, which cost $2,500.  The idea for the sign originated with the Tricentennial Foundation, a German heritage organization based in the North Hills section of Los Angeles. The foundation worked with the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley to fund the sign. The foundation ‘s aim was to “preserve the historical integrity of the site,” Hans Eberhard, the group’s chairman, told the Glendale News-Press last year.

Some proponents of the sign argued that they heard no objections about it before the County approved it.

“That’s because hardly anyone knew about it until it was put up,” explained Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. “If it had been a public process, I’m sure people would have opposed it.  But soon after it was put up, we started voicing our concerns.”

Once it was installed, people in the area began to raise questions.  After several local residents brought the issue to Moss’ attention, what appeared to be a harmless historical marker became the subject of controversy.  They learned that, despite the sign, the park’s name is Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park, not Hindenburg Park, and it is owned and operated by Los Angeles County.  Moss and others brought their complaints to County officials.

“I think there’s a way we can honor German-American culture, but also not forget what took place at that park,” Moss explained last year.

Civil rights, human rights, and faith-based groups mobilized a campaign to persuade County officials to take down the sign and replace it with another sign that would tell an accurate history of that site.  Local residents signed petitions, contacted local elected officials, and conducted research to uncover the park’s ugly but mostly forgotten history.

In April 2016, the county’s Human Relations Commission held a public hearing on the issue that attracted at least 200 people, the vast majority of them opposed to the new sign.  At the public hearing, many local residents recited versions of the famous statement by philosopher George Santayana:  If we don’t learn from the past, we’re doomed to repeat it.

Under pressure from the elected County Board of Supervisors, Parks and Recreation Department officials agreed to remove the sign and to appoint a committee to create a new display that accurately represented the park’s history with texts and photos. The sign was removed last November. The new display, explaining the site’s history, will be unveiled this Friday.

Had local political officials and business groups done their research, they might have predicted that the sign would generate controversy, given the park’s history as a gathering place for American Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.

Had the park simply been a place where German Americans celebrated their rich and fascinating cultural heritage, it would hardly be contentious. But the site also has a much more troubling history.

Although the German American League may have been founded to celebrate German culture, it always had a political side. According to a 1937 article in Life magazine, the group was “the Nazi organization in the U.S.,” previously known as the Friends of the New Germany.

This country’s major pro-Nazi group was the German-American Bund, which sought to promote a favorable view of Nazi Germany and urged Americans to boycott Jewish-owned business. Its rallies not only featured Nazi flags but also American flags, claiming that its members were patriotic Americans. In fact, the Bund claimed that George Washington was “the first Fascist.”

As early as 1936, the Bund operated 19 Nazi-inspired youth camps across the United States. One of them, Camp Sutter, was located at the German-American League’s Hindenburg Park.

In an interview last year, Arnie Bernstein, author of the Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund, explained that the purpose of these Bund youth camps was to “indoctrinate children in Nazi ideology.” Like most summer camps, the children participated in sports, hikes, arts and crafts and other activities. But they also were taught about Aryan supremacy and told to be loyal to the Bund, its leader Fritz Kuhn, and Adolph Hitler. They wore uniforms similar to those worn by the Hitler Youth group in Germany. They were forced to march around in the middle of the night carrying Bund and American flags, sing the Nazi anthem, give the Nazi salute, and shout “Sieg Heil.”  As part of their camp activities, they were inculcated with Nazi propaganda. A Congressional investigation also uncovered sexual abuse between the adults and campers, Bernstein said

In February 1939, Kuhn, who was often called the “American Fuehrer,” spoke at a pro-Nazi Bund rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City that attracted over 20,000 people. There he repeatedly referred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “Frank D. Rosenfeld,” called his New Deal the “Jew Deal,” and stated that “the Jews are enemies of the United States.”

Bund choir group sings at Hidenburg Park in 1936.

Later that month, the Bund held another rally at its West Coast headquarters at 634 West 15th Street in Los Angeles in building known as the Deutsch Haus (German House). The building was a site for pro-Nazi meetings and also housed a restaurant and beer hall as well as the Aryan Bookstore, where one could purchase the Bund newspaper, Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kamp, and other Nazi literature. The Deutsch Haus also screened German anti-Semitic propaganda films with titles like “Kosher Slaughter.”

A few months later, on April 30, 1939, the Bund held a rally in Hindenburg Park, promoted as a celebration of Hitler’s birthday ten days later. Over 2,000 German-American Bund members came to hear Kuhn and West Coast Bund leader Herman Max Schwinn.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “Clad in a gray-and-black storm trooper uniform and flanked by a dozen uniformed guards, Kuhn spoke from a stage draped in red swastika banners.” The crowd cheered Kuhn and booed as a low-flying plane, sponsored by the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, bombarded the park with thousands of anti-Hitler leaflets.

When it was Schwinn’s turn to speak, he read a telegram he had sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Do everything in your power to quarantine the United States against alien influences which are at work to drag the nation into war.” By “alien influences” he meant Jews, whom the Bund correctly believed were trying to get the Roosevelt administration and Congress to oppose Hitler’s efforts to take over Europe.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times that week, Kuhn spouted typical Nazi ideas.  He falsely claimed that Jews occupied 62% of the high posts in the federal government and “have plotted to get hold of almost everything, especially in New York and Hollywood.”

That event was only one of many Bund and pro-Nazi events that took place at the park. These gatherings featured speakers from other American fascist organizations – including the Silver Shirts, White Shirts, and Khaki Shirts — as well as the Bund.

California State University-Northridge hosts a website and archive called “In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California, 1933-1945” that includes photos of Nazi rallies at Hindenburg Park. One shows members of the Bund erecting a huge swastika in the park. A two-minute clip from the documentary film “Rancho La Canada” includes footage of activities at Hindenburg Park, including the 1939 Nazi rally.

In December 1939, Kuhn was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison for embezzlement, but the Bund briefly continued without him. Two years later, after the United States entered World War 2 against the Nazis, the Bund disappeared. In 1943, while he was serving his prison sentence, the U.S. cancelled Kuhn’s citizenship and deported him to Germany in 1945.

Historian Bernstein is quick to explain that “most German Americans weren’t Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.” Many, he said, were “ashamed of Hitler and what was going on in Germany, and strongly denounced Kuhn and his followers.”

“The Bund was a small group compared with the number of German Americans living in the United States,” he noted. “But they were loud and noisy.”

After the war, Hindenburg Park continued to be the site for German festivals. Southern California’s first Oktoberfest was held there in 1956.

While the German American League owned the park, a five-foot bust of Hindenburg adorned the grounds. In 1957, Los Angeles County purchased the land from the German-American League for $91,000, and removed the bust. The Board of Supervisors also abandoned the name Hindenburg Park and incorporated that section of the park into the larger Crescenta Valley County Park.

Over the next half-century, memories of the American Nazis’ presence at the park faded. By the start of this century, few people recalled that the Glendale area had not only been a stronghold of Nazi activism but also a breeding ground for other hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the John Birch Society in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, Glendale was West Coast headquarters of the American Nazi Party. In 1962, when the KKK experienced a revival in response to the burgeoning civil rights movement, the Klan paraded down Glendale’s main thoroughfare, Brand Boulevard, with a horse brigade, marching band and burning cross.

As recently as 2012, a tiny hate group called the Crescenta Valley European American Society, promoting “white identity and white pride,” had a brief presence on the internet and sponsored a European American Heritage Festival at Hindenburg Park — which generated controversy at the time — but all manifestations of this group, including its website, soon disappeared.

The La Crescenta and Glendale areas are now more diverse than in earlier years, but the scars of racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and other forms of bigotry never completely heal, as reflected in the upsurge of protest after the appearance of the new “Welcome to Hindenburg Park” sign last year.

Hans Eberhard, the Tri-Centennial Foundation’s chairman, seemed either naïve or willfully ignorant about the significance of the site’s Nazi past.

He told the Glendale News-Press last year that people who hoisted flags bearing swastikas in the park did so because it was the German flag at the time, not because they were Nazis.

Seeking to downplay the dispute, Eberhard explained, “This is a welcome to Hindenburg Park. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an indication this is a historic site.”

Steve Pierce, a Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce board member, told the Glendale News Press:  “The sign is just recognizing the German culture that was in our community.  I think that’s important. I’m very in support of that.”

Mike Lawler, former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley, who has documented the area’s history of racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, had a somewhat more nuanced view. The park’s history, he observed last year, is part of the “simple and recurring American story of an immigrant group celebrating their heritage as they assimilate.”

But Lawler also understood why the sign triggered a protest movement. “My overall feeling is that by burying uncomfortable events in history, we risk repeating past mistakes. Obviously, I don’t have the perspective of having been the victim of a mass genocide, so I cannot relate to the Jewish Federation’s feelings of offense. But I would hope that bringing attention to the park’s history would provide an opportunity for educating future generations about the dangers of nationalism and hate groups like the Bund.”

The Department of Parks and Recreation’s six-member advisory committee spent months debating what words and photos to include on the new display and how much to focus on the park’s Nazi activities.

Through the months of discussion, “we got a vivid reminder of the fruitful collaboration that can come from listening to others with care and respect,” said committee member Mark Strunin, a consultant for nonprofit groups and former president of a nearby synagogue.

“All four of my kids frequently go to the park and I was surprised when the sign suddenly appeared,” said Sophal Ear, an elected member of the Crescenta Valley Town Council who was appointed to the advisory committee.  “I had no clue as to the history of the Nazi activities in the park.”

A Cambodian refugee and a professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Ear said it was important to create a display that “doesn’t gloss over the past but illuminates it.  It’s absolutely crucial that we learn the lessons of history.”

Mona Field, a retired political science professor at Glendale College who helped lead the campaign to remove the offensive sign, called it a “grassroots victory against those who would whitewash history.” The new display, she said, “tells the full story, good and bad, and makes clear that ideologies of hatred have no place in our community.”

The display, recounting the park’s history, mentions that in its early days the park was owned by German-American League, who used it for festivals and other events for the local German-American community. But it also explains that “it was also used for more controversial activities” including “the promotion of Nazi beliefs through political rallies and the Sutter Youth Camp.”  There, the display notes, American youth were “indoctrinated into theories of Aryan superiority,” which is described as “part of Adolf Hitler’s racist ideology.”   These were not simply harmless theories but, the display  explains, “led to persecution and murder of European Jews and any other group or individual who opposed Hitler’s Third Reich regime.”

The display includes photos of the entrance to the park, the park caretaker’s residence in the 1930s, an Easter Sunday service in the park in 1952, a musical comedy performance in the early 1950s, and a bust of Beethoven that was erected in the park.  There’s also a 1944 photo of German American bomber  pilots in front of a plane.  This photo has nothing to do with the park or the Glendale area. One member of the advisory committee insisted that it be part of the display, no doubt to show that German Americans were loyal patriots who served  in the U.S. military during World War 2.

But the marker also includes photos of pro-Nazi activities that took place in the park in the 1930s – a German American Bund Party choral group, in front of a swastika, a gathering that includes both American and Nazi flags, and a group of children in uniforms looking at the German American Bund Party flag.  It does not include a well-known photo of German-American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn speaking at a pro-Nazi rally in Hindenburg Park in April 1939.  Only three of the display’s nine photos deal with the park’s Nazi past.

The display concludes with this statement: “Although the events of the 20th century may seem distant, there continues to be a need to guard against all forms of hatred, racism, and totalitarian ideologies of all types. The American ideals of justice and equal opportunity still require our vigilant support.”

When the ad hoc committee appointed by the LA County Parks and Recreation Department began deliberating over the design, photos, and wording of the new display, nobody could have anticipated that its unveiling would occur as the nation was reeling from an upsurge of neo-Nazi and white supremacist activism, emboldened by a president who failed to display moral leadership.

“The events in Charlottesville are a sad reminder that Nazism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and racism still exist in our country,” said the Jewish Federation’s Jason Moss.  “We cannot erase our history. But the new display in the park is a reminder of past events that took place in the community, and hopefully a way to ease the pain.”

“We showed that there are ways to work together through dialogue,” observed Moss, “instead of with torches and violence.”

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is “The 100 Greatest American of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame” (Nation Books).

President Donald Trump giving a statement on the violence this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia at the White House, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images.

Trump again condemns ‘both sides,’ including ‘alt-left,’ for Charlottesville violence


President Trump reverted to blaming left-wing counterprotesters as well as white supremacists for the violence that erupted at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In startling, off-the-cuff comments at a press conference Tuesday, the president appeared to backtrack from his statement Monday that explicitly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence on Saturday. On the day of the rally, Trump’s initial statement condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides,” a statement that shocked members of both parties for neglecting to call out white supremacists.

On Tuesday, Trump called out “the left, that came violently attacking the other group.”

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said at the news conference Tuesday in New York. “What about the alt-left that, as you say, came charging at the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

The “Unite the Right” rally Saturday saw hundreds of people on America’s racist fringe converge in defense of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and brawl with counterprotesters. After the rally was dispersed by police, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.

Attendees at the rally waved Nazi and Confederate flags, and shouted anti-Semitic and racist chants, in addition to giving Nazi salutes. But Trump said at the press conference that not all of the attendees were white supremacists.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ve condemned many different groups. but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

The president also appeared to equate Confederate generals with the founding fathers in questioning the drive to remove statues and other symbols of the Confederacy. He noted that George Washington owned slaves.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop? George Washington was a slave-owner.”

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, thanked Trump on Twitter “for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” references to the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa, a loose movement that combats white supremacists, sometimes violently.

But Congressional leaders shot back at Trump’s comments, calling for an unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, called white supremacy “repulsive” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, criticized Trump for sowing division in America.

Andrew Anglin runs the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer website. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site, forced offline by Google, heads to the dark web


The neo-Nazi and white supremacist site The Daily Stormer has moved its domain to the dark web after Google and GoDaddy forced it offline.

Google booted the site, known as one of the internet’s most prominent anti-Semitic outlets, from its domain name service on Monday for running an article smearing Heather Heyer, the victim of the car ramming at the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The GoDaddy domain platform, which Daily Stormer had been using since 2013, had done the same on Sunday. Both said the site violated their terms of service.

On Tuesday, Motherboard reported that some Twitter users were sharing links to a dark web version of the site.

“The dark web site seems to function in much the same way as the original, with posts on recent events and other content,” Joseph Cox reported.

Users may have to download Tor software, which gives access to certain anonymous sites on the dark web — the collection of networks that use the internet but function outside the realm of normal domain name providers — to find The Daily Stormer in its current form.

The Daily Stormer’s article on Heyer, 32, drew waves of criticism for calling her a “fat,” “childless” “slut.”

Andrew Anglin, the site’s founder, has not publicly commented on his plans for the site, which played a role in organizing Saturday’s protests.

On August 13, Daily Stormer was supposedly hacked by Anonymous, a collective of worldwide hackers who gained national attention in 2008 when they hacked the Church of Scientology website. The Daily Stormer hacking job was made public with a post, which read:

HACKERS OF THE WORLD HAVE UNITED IN DEFENSE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
YOU SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED US

A few hours later, Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin posted a follow-up:

Anglin Here. I’ve Retaken Control of the Site. The Daily Stormer Never Dies.

Since the fiasco, Anonymous has taken to Twitter to rebuke the claims of an alleged hack. “Seriously, suck less,” they tweeted to Daily Stormer in response.

The Independent was the first to note that the “hacking job” came after the neo-Nazi website was notified by its server GoDaddy that it would be shut down in 24 hours after violating their terms of service.

On August 13, Daily Stormer posted a hateful article about Heather Heyer, a victim of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, titled: Heather Heyer: Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident was a Fat, Childless 32-Year-Old Slut.

 

White supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas, JTA.

Hate in Charlottesville: The day the Nazi called me Shlomo


The white supremacists, for all their vaunted purpose, appeared to be disoriented.

Some 500 had gathered at a park here Saturday to protest this southern Virginia city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the park. Pressured by the American Civil Liberties Union, Charlottesville had allowed the march at Emancipation Park — or Lee Park, the protesters’ preferred name.

That worked for an hour or so, and then the protesters and counterprotesters started to pelt one another with plastic bottles — it was unclear who started it. Gas bombs — mildly irritating — seemed to come more from the white supremacists. Finally the sides rushed each other headlong and there were scuffles.

So Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and, heeding the police, the white supremacists filed out of the park and started walking, north, but to where no one seemed sure. There was talk of meeting at a parking lot, but which parking lot, no one was sure. As they approached the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, a bucolic hill overlooking an overpass, they sputtered to a stop for consultations and did what marchers on a seasonably warm day do: They sat on the grass, sought shade and chatted.

I had been following at a distance with a handful of journalists and folks who were there not so much to counterprotest but to deliver an alternative message. Zelic Jones from Richmond bore a poster with a saying by Martin Luther King Jr., “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I climbed the hillock to see if anyone would be willing to talk. On the way, the marchers had studiously ignored reporters, but I thought, at rest, they might be more amenable. It was not to be. One man, wearing black slacks, a white shirt, sunglasses and black baseball cap, shadowed me. He moved to stand between me and anyone I had hoped to interview.

I looked him directly in the eye.

“How’s it going, Shlomo?” he asked.

“My name is Ron,” I said. I hadn’t identified myself as Jewish.

“You look like a Shlomo.”

“You want to talk?” I offered.

“I don’t talk to the press,” he said. “They just lie.” He scampered away.

The exchange was jarring in how personal it was. I’ve been hated directly for many things (try being a journalist, anywhere), but it had been a while — I’d have to cast back to early childhood — since I’d faced visceral hatred just for, well, looking Jewish.

A year ago I had attended at a hotel in Washington, D.C., the unveiling of the “alt-right,” convened by one of its lead theorists, Richard Spencer, who also was in attendance in Charlottesville. That news conference — an expression of white supremacy argued in plummy tones that disguised its hateful content — was at a remove from the hatred stalking the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday. Spencer was polite and helpful after the fact. His ideas are toxic, but in the airless corridors of a Washington hotel, they seemed denuded of malice; they seem to be the imaginings of an intemperate toddler.

Here in Charlottesville, the hatred was present and real and would before the day ended apparently kill someone, when a car driven by a 20-year-old Ohio man plowed through counterprotesters.

Among the 500 white supremacists were men and women bearing signs like “Goyim know!” (Know what?) and “Jews are satans children.” There were Nazi flags. There were men all in black, T-shirts and slacks and army boots and helmets, jogging along with plastic shields. There were the men who sang of “blood and soil” as they marched to the Emancipation Park event. And when the white supremacists got their act together and gathered in McIntire Park, they shouted “Jew” every time the name of Charlotteville’s Jewish mayor, Michael Signer, was mentioned.

Of course, the hostility was not confined to Jews: As targets, Jews were not even preeminent; blacks were. There were the “White lives matter” T-shirts. Marching along McIntire Road, the white supremacists shouted the N-word at drivers passing by. More prominent than the Nazi flags were the Confederate flags and their variants.

The focus on Jews was anomalous: This was supposed to be about the Confederacy and Southern heritage, and defenders of the Southern cause are not always identified with hostility toward Jews. About an hour’s drive away, Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, a Confederate monument, has a carefully tended Jewish section.

And yet here it was, the chants of “Jews will not replace us” (as?). I had two more personal encounters. At the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, a man wearing a floppy beige sunhat started following me and explaining the lie of the Holocaust, the evil of the Jews, the value of DNA in determining purity. I retreated as he ran after me, screaming, “My mother says I’m a Jew! My MOTHER! Does that mean I’m entitled to something?” (I resisted replying, “Your mother’s love.”)

And earlier, filing out of Emancipation Park, a group of youths surrounded and shouted at me, “Take that wall in Israel down! An open border for everyone!” — a reference to a popular theory on the far right that Jews are engineering open borders to bring the United States to ruination while keeping Israel pure. They moved on.

Anomalies like these tend to bemuse, at least me. What the racists believe to be hurtful jibes come across more as non sequiturs, as mouthings of the deluded or the possessed. Why Shlomo of all names? What was that about DNA? A wall in Israel?

And then the car rammed the crowd, and there was a fatality, and some 35 injured, including five critically, and it was harder to pick out the absurd and use that as a way of keeping an emotional distance from the hate speech. I counted the wounded, rushed by stretchers into the back of ambulances, the less seriously injured patched up with torn cloths, leaning on friends’ shoulders and wincing.

I retreated to a cafe that was open only to clergy and the media dispensing free water and beer. I filed a story, and on the large wall TV, CNN said President Donald Trump was ready to speak.

The cafe fell silent. There was, it seems, even among this crowd of liberal clergy, a thirst for a message of unity from a president who has pledged, and more often than not failed, to lead us all.

Trump engaged in some throat clearing about the Veterans Administration, and then began, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred bigotry and violence, on many sides.” At “on many sides” the room erupted into shouts of anger. On cue, Trump repeated, “On many sides.”

There was only one side visibly and overwhelmingly gripped by hate on Saturday in Charlottesville.

As the day wore on, the White House refused to retreat from Trump’s many sides comment, and the president’s tweets didn’t add clarity.

“Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!” was his last tweet of the day.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share/ REUTERS.

How to Stop ‘Neo-Nazi’ from Turning ‘Nazi’


After 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, his former high school teacher Derek Weimer reported that his student had been fascinated by the Nazis at school. Weimer’s classroom was not where Fields’ fascination began, but where he was able to express himself openly and publicly with pride. The Second World War and the entire period of Nazi power was indeed fascinating, but Weimer realized that Fields’ interests lay in a deeper and darker place.

Weimer touchingly confessed that once he knew of Fields’ leaning towards white supremacy, and did not manage to dissuade him from his unhealthy interest in the Nazis, that he “failed” as a teacher. In fact, we failed Weimer.

Our society has had such a focus on the threat from extreme Islamist terrorism, that white supremacy has been portrayed like some tribute band, reprising dated covers with no contemporary threat and little relevancy.  So much so, the leadership of its ideological cousin, the so-called alt-right, festers in the White House, veering policy down a dangerous path, enabling the far right to believe they can unite.  Unite the Right, the alt-right, and James Fields share the same ideological DNA.  It is an ideology that is always exclusive and ultimately violent.  The labels we use for the various strands of far right groups mislead us. White supremacy, alt-right, neo-fascist, neo-Nazis: There is nothing alternative or new about them. They are self-declared fascists drawing directly from the well of a genocidal past.  To term current-day Nazis as “neo-Nazis,” when in fact they themselves want to emulate the actions of Hitler and consider themselves to be Nazis, is to delude ourselves about their intent and the threat they pose.

Currently, eight states have laws on the books that mandate the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide.  Of those, only five have a state commission or task force to keep genocide education comprehensive and up to date. No states mandate the provision of resources to support teacher education in this subject or the kind of mentorship that would have benefitted Fields’ high school teacher.

To prevent more students treading this dangerous path requires a concerted effort among the U.S. Department of Education, state education boards, school districts, and the many private sector organizations that teach about the Holocaust and the prevention of racism and discrimination. There needs to be support for intervention when a teacher notices a student in a dangerous situation.

The reason we teach about the Holocaust is because hatred as expressed by Nazi ideology is not abstract history. It has real, ongoing power that can rapidly manifest in violence at any time. We do not teach it to engage students in morbid fascination, but to alert them, to prepare them, and to provide them with tools to resist this kind of evil.

A high school recently called USC Shoah Foundation because its football team greeted members of the opposing team who were Jewish with the “Heil Hitler” salute. The school leaders could have ignored it, but in seeking help, they were able to work with a well-equipped organization. The students were brought together and the issue was worked through.  With a safe context and expert support, the gap was closed, and students got to know each other as people, not as stereotypes.  It took some time and was a difficult process, but hate was taken out of the situation and replaced with respect.

We need to worry about what we have seen in Charlottesville.  This is not the last we will see of the far right.  But if we really want to prevent such violence, we need to invest in our classrooms. Otherwise, there will be many more James Fields in the future.

Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation.

A white supremacist grabs a counter protesters' sign during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

A guide to the far-right groups that protested in Charlottesville


They believe the “white race” is in danger. They believe the United States was built by and for white people and must now embrace fascism. They believe minorities are taking over the country. And they believe an international Jewish conspiracy is behind the threat.

These are the people who were rallying in Charlottesville.

The “Unite the Right” rally Saturday saw hundreds of people on America’s racist fringe converge in defense of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and brawl with counterprotesters. The rally ended after a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.

The rally was the largest white supremacist gathering in a decade, according to the Anti-Defamation League, but it wasn’t the work of one extremist group or coalition. Spearheaded by a local far-right activist named Jason Kessler, the rally saw several racist, anti-Semitic and fascist groups, new and old, come together.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, the rally included “a broad spectrum of far-right extremist groups – from immigration foes to anti-Semitic bigots, neo-Confederates, Proud Boys, Patriot and militia types, outlaw bikers, swastika-wearing neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan members.”

Many of the attendees, says the ADL’s Oren Segal, were young men who became radicalized on the internet and were not affiliated with any particular group. While some protesters belonged to the “alt-right,” a loose movement of racists, anti-Semites and nativists, others were part of older white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

At the rally, protesters were seen carrying Nazi and Confederate flags, as well as signs with racist and anti-Semitic slogans. They chanted “Sieg heil,” gave Nazi salutes and shouted the N-word at passers-by.

“They really believe they have to save the white race, and to do that, they have to achieve some sort of white ethno-state,” Segal said. “They tend to be young, more frenetic in terms of their use of social media, while older more traditional groups like the Klan are in decline. Regardless of differences, it’s all the same hate.”

Here’s a guide to a few of the most prominent hate groups who showed up in Charlottesville.

Vanguard America

James Fields joined this relatively new fascist white supremacist group at the rally. On the homepage of its website, Vanguard America declares that “Our people are subjugated while an endless tide of incompatible foreigners floods this nation.”

The group trumpets the concept of “blood and soil,” an idea championed by the Nazis claiming that the inherent features of a people are the land it lives on and its “blood,” or race. In addition to opposing multiculturalism and feminism, Vanguard America’s manifesto calls for a country “free from the influence of international corporations, led by a rootless group of international Jews, which place profit beyond the interests of our people, or any people.”

According to the ADL, the group has posted dozens of fliers on campuses in at least 10 states. Its posters bear slogans like “Beware the International Jew” and “Fascism: The next step for America.” This year, the group defaced a New Jersey Holocaust memorial with a banner reading “(((Heebs will not divide us))).” Its signs at Saturday’s rally bore the fasces, a traditional fascist symbol depicting a bundle of sticks with a protruding axe blade.

Ku Klux Klan

One of the country’s oldest and most infamous hate groups, the Klan has primarily targeted black people, along with Jews, Catholics and other minorities. The KKK throughout its history has been responsible for lynchings, bombings, beatings and other racist acts of murder and abuse.

Group members have historically worn white hoods, to hide their identities and to mimic ghosts. Its leaders, including white supremacist activist David Duke, take on bizarre titles such as grand wizard and exalted cyclops.

The KKK was founded by Confederate veterans following the Civil War to harass black people, and at its height in the 1920s it had some 4 million members, according to the SPLC. An ADL report this year said the Klan has shrunk to about 3,000 total members spread across 40 groups in 33 states, mostly in the South and East.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back,” Duke said in a video at the rally Saturday. “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back, and that’s what we got to do.”

Identity Evropa

A new group that affiliates with the alt-right, Identity Evropa seeks to promote “white American culture,” and also has posted fliers on college campuses. The group, which works with white supremacist pseudo-intellectual Richard Spencer, claims there are inherent differences among races and that white people are more intelligent than others. Identity Evropa sees itself as “identitarian,” a far-right European ideology seeking to reassert white identity.

The group supports a policy of “remigration” of immigrants out of the United States. Some of its posters bear the slogan “You will not replace us,” a chant that Charlottesville protesters paired with “Jews will not replace us.” Identity Evropa does not allow Jews as members.

League of the South

If the rally’s proximate goal was to preserve the statue of Lee in Charlottesville, the most obvious participants were the League of the South, a neo-Confederate group. The organization supports southern secession from the United States and “believes that Southern culture is distinct from, and in opposition to, the corrupt mainstream American culture.”

The group envisions a Christian theocratic government that enforces strict gender norms. It opposes immigration as well as Islam. League of the South defines the “Southern people” as being of “European descent,” calls itself “pro-white” and states that it “has neither been the will of God Almighty nor within the power of human legislation to make any two men mechanically equal.” Duke gave the keynote address at one of the organization’s gatherings this year.

According to the SPLC, the group founded a paramilitary unit in 2014.

National Socialist Movement

This one is pretty self-explanatory — America’s version of the Nazi Party. It is a white supremacist organization that would either deport “non-whites” — including Jews — or strip them of citizenship and subject them to a discriminatory regime (the group’s manifesto proposes both). The group is also anti-feminist and homophobic.

The National Socialist Movement idolizes Adolf Hitler, whom it says “loved and cared deeply for the average person.” Until about a decade ago, the group would protest in full Nazi regalia, which it has swapped out for black uniforms. Its crest features a swastika superimposed on an altered version of the Stars and Stripes.

Michael Signer, seen in a 2009 photo, has noted that for the first time in his life, he has been the target of intense baiting as a Jew. Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons.

Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor is an expert on demagogues, and now on anti-Semitism


Michael Signer, the Jewish mayor of Charlottesville, has one thing in common with the white supremacists who descended on his southern Virginia city over the weekend: He also opposed the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Of course, Signer’s reasons for preserving the statue would have appalled the supremacists: He agreed with local African-American activists who had argued that preserving the statue was a means of teaching Virginians about the horrors of a “dishonorable” cause, the Confederacy.

Signer was on the losing side of a 3-2 City Council decision, and the statue is now slated for removal. But his thoughtful approach, more typical of an academic than a politician, has also been evident in his counsel during the rash of protests that have plagued this city: “Don’t take the bait,” he has said.

In giving that advice, Signer has noted that for the first time in his life, he has been the target of intense baiting as a Jew.

“I can’t see the world through a black person’s eyes,” he said at a June 13 address at an African-American church, where he urged constituents not to give in to the impulse to counter hatred with hatred.

“I can see it through a Jewish person’s eyes; the KKK hates Jews just as much as they hate black people. The stuff with this group online about Jews is unbelievable, bloodcurdling. The stuff I’ve gotten on my phone at my house, you’d think it was done a hundred years ago.”

Signer, 44, a practicing lawyer in Charlottesville, also lectures on politics and leadership at the University of Virginia, his law school alma mater. His wife, Emily Blout, is an Iran scholar at the same university, which is located here.

An Arlington native, Signer is the child of journalists, but in his author’s autobiography sounds like many other younger liberal Jews who note with pride their grandparents’ working class and intellectual roots:

“My grandfather was a Jeep mechanic for the Army on the European front in World War II and lifetime member of the proofreaders’ union at the New York Times; he lost part of a finger in an industrial accident as a young man,” he wrote. “My grandmother organized seamstresses on her factory floor in New York City and later worked as a secretary to Hannah Arendt at the New School.”

In a January speech declaring Charlottesville “a capital of the resistance,” Signer described his grandfather as a “Jewish kid raised in the Bronx” who was “part of the forces that liberated the world from Nazism and fascism, that laid the groundwork for NATO and the Marshall Plan, and for a country that lived up to the promises of the Statue of Liberty. …

“If he were alive right now, I don’t think I could look him in the face and say Grandpa, I didn’t fight for the values you fought for.”

Before becoming mayor, Signer was known both for his activism in the senior reaches of the Democratic Party — he was national security adviser for John Edwards’ 2008 primary campaign — as well as his expertise on a subject that has received much attention recently, demagoguery. His 2009 book, “Demagogue: the Fight to Save Democracy from its Worst Enemies,” was well received.

The book examines successful demagogues left and right: Sen. Joe McCarthy, the 1950s anti-communist firebrand who plagued the American discourse, and Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan strongman and leftist, both come under scrutiny. In December  2015, before the presidential primaries, Signer predicted that Donald Trump could become a “singular menace to our Republic.”

Paraphrasing James Fenimore Cooper, Signer wrote then that Trump met all four criteria of an American demagogue: “they posture as men of the common people; they trigger waves of powerful emotion; they manipulate this emotion for political benefit; and they threaten or break established principles of governance.”

Without saying “I told you so” outright, Signer this weekend squarely blamed Trump for stoking the populist white nationalist fervor that culminated in the violence that took the life of one counterprotester, injured dozens of others and led to the death of two state troopers in a helicopter crash. The rally included Nazi flags, chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and shouts of “Jew” every time a speaker mentioned Signer’s name.

“Look at the campaign he ran,” the mayor said on CNN.

Signer elaborated on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying of Trump, “I think they made a choice in that campaign, a very regrettable one, to really go to people’s prejudices, to go to the gutter.”

Signer’s tactic has been to organize countering events that celebrate Charlottesville’s diversity, prompting Mark Pitcavage, the senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, to say on Twitter that Signer “gets it.”

Speaking in May on “State of Belief,” a radio show produced by the Interfaith Alliance, Signer said it was more productive to focus on the victim than the perpetrator.

“You’re trying to ease the pain of someone who’s been afflicted rather than focus on the harasser,” he said.

He also described the unfamiliar sensation of being in the position of the afflicted, barraged as he was with online assaults from anti-Semites as the Lee statue issue was put before the council.  One tweet, from the account of someone calling themselves Great Patriot Trump, read “I smell Jew. If so, you are going back to Israel. But you will not stay in power here. Not for long.”

“The wave of anti-Semitic attacks I’ve seen in the last week, it’s been a new experience for me, I’ve never seen that before,” Signer said. “Some of the nightmare historical tropes I thought had been retired after World War II” had returned as “more disturbing mashups of politics today and anti-Semitism.”

A woman writes a message on the street commemorating the victims at the scene of the car attack on a group of counter-protesters during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 14, 2017. Photo by Justin Ide/REUTERS.

We know what we stand for; it’s time to say it


The image of a poster from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past weekend sent chills down my spine.

It reminded me of what I saw at a museum in Berlin over the summer: propaganda from the 1930s and 1940s designed to inspire hatred towards Jews and other non-Aryan peoples. News coverage of the march in Charlottesville led me to recall the terrifying photographs of Nazi rallies and book burnings that led ultimately to much greater violence and evil.

In the face of hatred, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and indifference, we must respond forcefully by expressing vigorously and unapologetically the values we cherish most deeply.

Our sages understood this well. They repudiated this type of hatred and xenophobia two thousand years ago. Our rabbis asked why God chose to create humanity through a common ancestor.  Answered our teachers: “For the sake of peace among all peoples so that no person can say to his friend, ‘My father is greater than your father.’” (Sanhedrin 37a)

From the perspective of our tradition, racism is a grave sin and an offense not just against humanity but, ultimately, also against God. Our rabbis condemned it unconditionally. We must do so as well and we must demand the same moral clarity from our leaders today.

For now, white supremacists and neo-nazis constitute a tiny minority of our great nation. Here is what must be remembered: a nation’s greatness is demonstrated ultimately by the values it upholds.

As Jews and as Americans, we know what we stand for. It’s time once again, unequivocally and proudly, to say so.

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback is senior rabbi at Stephen Wise Temple.

A demonstrator holds signs during a rally in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia car attack on counter-protesters after the "Unite the Right" rally organized by white nationalists, in Oakland, California, U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017. Photo by Stephen Lam/REUTERS.

Natan Sharansky, Naftali Bennett condemn anti-Semitic and racist hate at Charlottesville rally


Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett condemned a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the deadly attack on a counterprotester.

Sharansky, whom many Jews in Israel and beyond consider a champion of human rights and liberties, in a statement Monday wrote that he was “horrified by the death of a protester at the hands of one of the marchers.”

“There is no place for such hate speech or violence in any democratic society,” he wrote, “and I am confident that American authorities will do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Ahead of a rally Saturday by far-right activists in Charlottesville, a supporter of neo-Nazis drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring at least 20.

Sharansky, a famed political prisoner of the Soviet Union for his Zionist activities, also said he was “deeply concerned” by the expressions of anti-Semitic hatred in Charlottesville, including against its Jewish mayor, Michael Signer, as well as “other forms of racism and hatred.”

Bennett, a right-wing politician from the Jewish Home party, which is a coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, published a statement on Sunday that criticized the expressions of hatred at the far-right gathering. His statement also appeared to reference the absence of a condemnation by President Donald Trump targeting the far right specifically after the attack.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the U.S. is not only offensive towards the Jewish Community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the U.S. and the entire world from the Nazis,” Bennett wrote in the statement, adding “The leaders of the U.S. must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”

A white supremacist trying to strike a counterprotestor with a white nationalist flag during clashes at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Jewish leaders condemn Charlottesville violence and Trump’s reaction


Jewish groups and Jewish leaders condemned the violence at a white supremacist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, and criticized President Donald Trump for saying that the hatred and violence came from “many sides.”

“The vile presence and rhetoric of the neo-Nazis who marched this weekend in Charlottesville is a reminder of the ever-present need for people of good will to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate, and act both to delegitimize those who spread such messages and to mitigate the harm done to the commonweal of our nation and to those that are the targets of hate messages,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in statement issued on Saturday evening, adding that “once again, hate has killed.

Three people were killed as a result of the weekend neo-Nazi event. One woman was killed and 19 injured, some seriously, after a car driven by an Ohio man slammed into a crowd of counterprotesters. The driver, identified as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was taken into police custody and the incident is under investigation.

Two Virginia state troopers were killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protestors and counterprotesters.

“We commend the opening of President Trump’s statement condemning the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” but are deeply troubled by the moral equivalence evident in President Trump’s statement today. White supremacists wielding Nazi flags and spewing racist vitriol need to be specifically condemned, not only violence and hate ‘on many sides.’ If our leaders can’t call out this virulent strand of hate we will surely fail to stop it,” Jacobs also said in his statement.

Trump held a news conference from his summer vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey after posting tweets criticizing the violence in Charlottesville, including one which read: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

“What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society,” he also tweeted.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, condemned the “inconceivable violence” on display in Charlottesville.

““It is utterly distressing and repugnant that such hatred and bigotry still run rampant in parts of this country. There is no place in our democratic society for such violence and intolerance. We must be vigilant and united in our opposition to such abhorrence,” he said in a statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the violence in Charlottesville in a tweet posted Saturday afternoon. “Mayhem in #charlottesville. We pray for victims of #violence & condemn those who marched thru streets chanting #hate,” he tweeted.

He also praised Trump for condemning the violence but criticized him for not specifically condemning the white supremacist movement. “Glad @POTUS blasted violence but long overdue for moral ldrshp that condemns the agents of #hate: #WhiteSupremacists, #NeoNazis, #AltRight,” he tweeted.

 

In a statement later issued by ADL, Greenberg said: “This is a moment that demands moral leadership. President Trump should acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.”

“We call on the White House to terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement. They do not serve the values embodied in our Constitution nor the interests of the American people,” he also said.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Appalled by white supremacists & neo-Nazis in #Charlottesville preaching #racism, spewing #antiSemitism & #homophobia & glorifying violence.”

The organization also called on Trump to find “moral clarity.”

“@POTUS Time for moral clarity. Condemning ‘hatred, bigotry & violence on many sides’ blurs truth & gives pass to neo-Nazi perpetrators,” AJC tweeted.

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and Security Cabinet member Naftali Bennett, who is head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, condemned the rally and called on U.S. leaders to denounce the anti-Semitism connected to it.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the U.S. is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the U.S. and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement, adding: “The leaders of the U.S. must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who was a former candidate for president, in a tweet slammed Trump for his handling of Charlottesville. “No, Mr. President. This is a provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism and hatred and create violence. Call it out for what it is.”

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who ran for and lost his bid for a Senate seat in Louisiana, and was an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s presidential run, tweeted in response to Trump’s call for all Americans to unite against hate.

“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” Duke tweeted.

Members of the Virginia National Guard on the pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, Va., following violence at the Unite the Right rally, Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Charlottesville Jewish community hires security


The Jewish community of Charlottesville, Virginia, hired security guards for the first time in its history ahead of a far-right event that ended with a deadly attack on protesters against racism.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz of Congregation Beth Israel told Haaretz on Sunday that the move was deemed necessary ahead of the “alt-right” rally planned for the city the day before. On Saturday, a 20-year-old white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and wounding 20 others.

“We had to hire the service of security guards because of the events,” Gutherz told Haaretz. “We’re sad but we had no choice.”

The synagogue held its scheduled activities on Saturday, Gutherz said.

“It was clear we wouldn’t let this intimidate us, these people can’t keep us away from our synagogue,” he said of the far-right activists.

On Sunday, Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, who is Jewish, blamed President Donald Trump for some of the hatred on display in his city, where thousands of marchers chanted racist slogans, including about Jews and blacks.

“Look at the campaign he ran,” Signer told CNN about Trump. “Look at the intentional courting, on one hand, of all these white supremacists, white nationalists … and look on the other hand at the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, put to bed all of these different efforts, just like we saw yesterday. This isn’t hard.”

On Saturday, Trump condemned hatred and violence “on many sides” in his remarks, but did not directly single out the white supremacists, whose rally in Charlottesville resulted in the governor, Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, calling a state of emergency.

Trump has come under bipartisan criticism for failing to explicitly condemn white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups in brief remarks he gave Saturday from his golf club in New Jersey.

Vice President Mike Pence did issue such a condemnation while speaking to reporters in Cartagena, Colombia.

“We have no tolerance for hate and violence, white supremacists or neo-Nazis or the KKK,” he said.

White supremacists rally in Charlottesville Va. on August 12 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

One dead as car plows through anti-white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville Va.


A car traveling at a high speed plowed through a crowd during protests against a white supremacist gathering, killing one person and injuring at least five.

At least one of the injured was in critical condition, sources close to law enforcement told JTA on Saturday. A JTA reporter counted at least eight injured, although several of these suffered minor wounds and were treated at the scene. Security sources said a man was in custody and that the FBI was sending agents to the city, although a motive was not yet clear.

Some 500 white supremacists, believed to be the largest gathering in recent history, gathered in Emancipation Park on Saturday in the university town’s center to protest plans by the city, a liberal enclave in central Virginia, to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (The park was previously known as Lee Park.)

Protesters and counterprotesters started throwing things at one another, including plastic bottles and gas bombs, and at one point the two groups charged one another and there were tussles. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police asked the white supremacists to move. The organizers of the supremacists group were unclear about where to go and dispersed to different parts of the city.

The counterprotesters remained in the center and were peacefully marching down Water Street, a main thoroughfare, when a car tore down 4th Street at its intersection with Water Street, witnesses said, and rammed through protesters and into two cars that were waiting for the march to pass. The car backed up over injured protesters.

Clergy pray at the scene where a car ran into counterprotesters in Charlottesville Va. who were protesting white supremacists gathered in the city on August 12 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

Although the focus of the white supremacists ostensibly was on preserving symbols of the confederacy, there were overt expressions of Nazi sympathy, including swastika flags, and signs that said “The Jewish media is going down.”

Protesters and counterprotesters arrived on Friday and there were tensions throughout the weekend, with chanting by the white supremacists at times targeting Jews and naming the town’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer.

President Donald Trump condemned the violence, but appeared to blame all sides. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of bigotry hatred and violence on many sides,” he said at an impromptu press conference.

White Supremacists march in Charlottesville Va. on August 12 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

A crowd of counterprotesters gathered in a Charlottesville cafe fell silent to listen to the president, but erupted into shouts of anger when he said “on many sides” and failed to name white supremacists.

Trump has made a point of naming Islamic radicals as responsible for terrorist attacks even before the full details are known.

Stray dogs roam the Babi Yar monument on March 14, 2016 in Kiev, where Nazis and local collaborators murdered 30,000 Jews in 1941. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz.

Researchers find Jewish headstones at the Nazi killing site of Babi Yar


Nazi troops dumped dozens of stolen Jewish headstones at the same site near Kiev where they murdered tens of thousands of Jews, researchers in Ukraine discovered.

The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center last month extracted  50 headstones from the Babi Yar ravine, where Nazis and local collaborators murdered more than 150,00 people, including 50,000 Jews, starting in September 1941.

“The tombstones were removed from a local Jewish cemetery during the Holocaust and thrown into the same ravines where over 150,000 Jews, Roma people and Ukrainians were murdered during the Holocaust,” Marek Siwiec, a former Polish politician and current head of the memorial center, said in a statement earlier this week about the discovery.

With a mandate from the Ukrainian government, Siwiec’s organization, which was set up last year, is heading international efforts to commemorate the Babi Yar tragedy in a manner befitting its scale. Jewish victims arememorialized at the site only by an unfenced six-foot menorah, which is situated near a dumping ground for industrial waste and is vandalized regularly.

“The significance of Babi Yar is of upmost importance, at this horrendously difficult site, the largest single act mass murder of Jews took place during the Holocaust, with 37,771 brutally murdered during a two-day period, it is our duty not just to remember this site but also proactively learn from the darkest days of human history to build a better future,” Siwiec said in the statement about the discovery.

Additional headstones from Jewish graves are scattered in the ravine but they require careful excavations to be extracted intact, according to Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths organization, which promotes the commemoration of the Holocaust in Poland. Daniels visited the site earlier this week to see how From the Depths, which has focused on restoring pillaged headstones in Poland, could assist the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, he said.

Ursula Martens in her Baldwin Hills home. Photo by Tess Cutler

A Nazi then, remorseful now


A former Hitler Youth reflects on the guilt of her past as she seeks understanding and redemption

Ursula Martens is a dainty 88-year-old with blue eyes, snow-white hair and a healthy, active lifestyle. She could easily pass for anybody’s grandma.

She lives independently in a large, two-story home in Baldwin Hills, where she runs a successful building maintenance business. She has friends, children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. She likes to garden. Every morning, she feeds hundreds of wild birds that gather on the electrical lines surrounding her property.

By these accounts, Martens appears to be living a good, if not ordinary life. Her biography seems typical of octogenarians these days — she’s industrious, social, in possession of adequate resources, and a sense of purpose. She appears altogether normal.

With one exception: Ursula Martens was a Nazi.

Born on March 28, 1929, in Kropelin, Germany, a 2 1/2-hour drive northwest of Berlin, Martens grew up in the shadow of the Third Reich. Like most Germans of her generation, she joined the Hitler Youth by the time she was 10. Even among believers, she distinguished herself as one of the more fervent champions of Hitler and his ideas. She was so enamored of the Fuhrer that she developed a crush. “How handsome he was … the best-looking man I had ever seen,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Stations Along the Way,” co-authored with Mark Shaw. And woe to anyone who disagreed with her: “He seemed like sort of a God to me.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer. She claims that at the time, she did not know the extent of Hitler’s crimes. But she was every bit the willing participant in his homicidal campaign to eliminate offenders of his Aryan ideal.

“I was trained to hate before I was 10 years old,” she wrote.

And so she hated. She hated the Romani. She hated the disabled. And most of all, she hated Jews.

Reflecting on the advent of the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws, which demoted Jews to second-class citizens, Martens wrote: “I understood that these laws put the Jews where they belonged, at the bottom of society.”

Instead of fantasizing about the cute boy in class like other girls her age, Martens spent the formative years of her youth obsessed with modern history’s most brutal mass murderer

Today, despite her comfortable life in Los Angeles, the hateful views Martens adopted as a girl continue to dominate her psyche — but now as sources of shame, self-recrimination and guilt. For the past 60 years, Martens has tried everything imaginable — confession, education and religion, even a love affair with a Jew — to exorcise the evils that poisoned her young mind. Her memoir is only part of her mea culpa; whatever opportunities she has to accept responsibility, apologize and seek forgiveness — including cooperation with this story — she has undertaken with gusto.

But whether absolution exists for her is beside the point. She was on the wrong side of history and has no choice but to atone again and again and again for the crime of losing her innocence.

“I don’t think you can ever forgive yourself for something that you were part of,” Martens says, sitting stone-faced at her glass dining room table. Her hair is down, shaped in a bob, and her large eyeglasses magnify the lines of her wrinkled face. Adjacent to where she sits is a small, overstuffed bookcase dominated by the works of Deepak Chopra.

Although Martens was not a Nazi in the conventional sense — she never held a weapon or committed any crime — she feels her mental complicity in Hitler’s race war laid the intellectual foundation for violence.

“I feel like I was part of it,” she says, “even though I didn’t have whatever it takes to open the gas.”

But she cannot be sure.

Martens doesn’t really know if she would have killed, she says, because she never had the opportunity. In her book, it is a question she asks herself over and over, and on occasion, she describes feeling bloodlust. During the British bombing of Germany in the later years of the war, the Hitler Youth were given instructions to wound or kill any survivor of a downed British plane. “They told us that if you ever see [a plane’s crew members parachute down], take whatever tool you have and go and try and kill them. And I thought ‘Yeah!’ That’s what I was looking for, when I saw planes, to be able to do that.

“I don’t think you ever get over that.”

Martens is one of tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators who gained passage to the United States after World War II. According to U.S. census data, 226,000 Germans immigrated to the United States from 1941 and 1950. Some were engineers and scientists, like Wernher von Braun, recruited by the U.S. government for their technological expertise. Others were senior Nazi party officials who were offered asylum in exchange for serving as spies against Soviet Russia in the early years of the Cold War. Most, however, were like Martens, ordinary German citizens who quietly slipped in, melding into the American panorama with no desire to continue Nazi activity or call attention to themselves. Many succeeded. Others, like Martens, could escape everything but their conscience.

Martens was 4 years old when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, setting the country and the rest of the world on a course to war. He won support as a democratically elected populist leader who promised a struggling country, which a generation before had lost World War I, that he would make Germany great again. The excitement he aroused around the nation was palpable. Martens still recalls the first time she heard his voice.

“I remember the decorations they put up,” she says of an early, local rally in support of Hitler. “It was like a movie I saw that I never forgot.”

Martens’ father was a railroad stationmaster, so she and her family moved a lot, often living in apartments above the station. Since most stations were located in the center of town, the family had front-row seats to public gatherings and rallies. The first time she saw a crowd gather to listen to one of Hitler’s radio speeches, she was instantly awed. “[I]t gave me the shivers,” she wrote. “[His voice] was so clear and distinct … I felt that that voice had power, and I noticed others, including my parents, felt the same way.”

As stewards of the train station, Martens remembers the day men in uniform entered her family home to unfurl a banner of Hitler that reached from the balcony of their apartment to the station floor. Soon after, her father began wearing what the young Martens perceived as “a red armband with a symbol on it.”

The political metastasis of the Third Reich became the landmarks of her childhood. When Martens and her older sister first heard the word “Nazi,” they asked their mother what it meant. She says they were told, “Communists are bad people, and Nazis are good people.” They were children, after all. Simple explanations worked.

Growing up at that time, religion was frowned upon, so politics — in the form of nationalism — ruled the day. Prejudice was common. According to Martens, German superiority had been a feature of the national character well before Hitler arrived. By the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed at the end of 1935, when Martens was 6, Jews had become the symbol of everything undesirable. “When we did not like a kid at school or wanted to make fun of them, we called them a Jew,” she wrote.

Jews weren’t the only hated ones. When Martens befriended a young boy called Heine, whom she describes as “different” and “slow,” her mother objected. One day, she and a friend ditched Heine on the walk home from school to the station. Hours later, he was found dead, sandwiched between two boxcars. Martens was devastated. But when she sought comfort from her parents, none was offered.

“There was a lack of affection,” Martens tells me about her relationship with her parents. “That’s kind of typical German. Emotions meant you were weak.”

The emotional isolation she felt at home intensified as she grew into adolescence. Her mother refused to discuss subjects of interest, like boys and sex, warning the young Martens that she could become pregnant from kissing. The recollections in her memoir give the impression of an adolescent girl desperate for an emotional outlet, and Martens found hers in Hitler.

In the Jungmadel, “young girls” of the Hitler Youth movement, she found community and purpose. She attended weekly meetings and rallies where indoctrination techniques took hold: A local political leader “reported” the news; Hitler’s radio addresses were played and replayed, his speeches memorized. The young people sang nationalistic songs glorifying the Third Reich. And everyone was expected to play sports and attend camping trips.

It was at these meetings that the Hitler Youth were exposed to “race education.” In her book, Martens recalls a demonstration in which she was asked to aid the teacher by having her skull measured. “This was a means of knowing what the lecturer called the cranial index of the ideal Aryan,” she wrote. “How proud I was when my head size was perfect. And of course, I was blond-haired and blue-eyed — perfect, too. I smiled all the way home.”

Reading Martens’ memoir is a bizarre experience. It is extremely detailed, reflecting Hitler’s ideology on many of its pages, and since Martens is recalling the indoctrination of her youth, the views expressed are relayed uncritically. The tone is matter-of-fact. And even though the work is the product of a wiser, older woman, it is filtered through the prism of a child. Unlike Anne Frank, however, young Martens lacked the personal insight and moral judgment to comprehend what was happening within and around her.

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie. “My sister was five years older and she was the learned one, the intelligent one,” Martens says. “At least that’s how I thought she was treated by my father. They would have intelligent conversations at the dinner table, so I kind of envied her. I didn’t like it. I was a little jealous.”

Sibling rivalry, at least as much as Hitler’s demagoguery, propelled her radicalism.

“I wanted to show her I could do something,” Martens says, pointing her finger to her chest. “You know, like, ‘I’ll show you …’ ”

Martens concedes that the driving force behind her enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth was that she wanted to outperform her older sister, Evie.

Plus, being in the Hitler Youth came with perks. Once the Nazis had taken over the country, German cultural life was at their disposal. “We could go to movies, we could go to the theater, the opera — everything was free,” Martens says.

Life, in short, was fun. “Ohhh, yeah,” she says with emphasis.

With Germany on the brink war, things turned sinister. Signs were posted everywhere informing Germans not to speak too loudly, lest an enemy — the Jew — eavesdrop. The day after Kristallnacht in 1938, Martens was startled to discover a beloved local shop had been destroyed. In one telling passage, she sees the destruction, but laments only the broken crystals shattered on the sidewalk.

“I felt sorry for all the beautiful crystals,” she wrote. “It seemed like such waste to me. I knew that because the owners were Jewish, they weren’t supposed to have a store, and so I didn’t question what had been done to it.”

She also remembers the raging flames from a book burning that night. “I had heard people talk about the list of authors that weren’t suitable for Germans to read. I knew they were Jews, Communists and other writers that wrote anything against the Nazis.

“Books did not mean as much to me as the beautiful crystal and porcelain broken into millions of pieces that Crystal Night,” she wrote.

By age 11 or 12, Martens was the first to salute “Heil, Hitler” when encountering passersby on the street. She believed in “blitzkrieg” and Hitler’s vow to turn Germany into a world power. When neighbors mysteriously disappeared, she told herself there was good reason for it. And she bought into the anti-Semitic propaganda that Jews were “bloodsuckers” and “parasites,” that her family shouldn’t patronize their shops. She turned her head from signs declaring “Jewish filth” without ever questioning it. Today, however, she admits she barely knew any Jews while growing up.

Ursula Martens as she was photographed at her grandparents’ house in Germany after World War II. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

“I think people are easy to brainwash,” she says. “I can see that now. Because whatever you question, there’s an excuse for everything. When [the propaganda] started, [Germans] were saying ‘Jews are the ones that make it hard for us.’ And I always remember Jews working in banks or being lawyers or doctors. And I still say that now. Jewish families don’t say, ‘What do you want to be, a hairdresser?’ They say, ‘Be a lawyer or a doctor.’ You have no other choice.”

Martens pauses, wondering if maybe she has said something offensive. Perhaps the stereotypes she’s spent years trying to shed are still there, lingering just beneath the surface.

“I think that’s good,” she adds. She wants to be clear she means this as a compliment.

For someone who hated Jews, Martens now seems oddly admiring of them. It’s as if the Jew, after being hated, became an object of mystification. Since she was young, the truth of what was happening to Jews during the Holocaust was hidden from her. There were rumors. There were signs. But the darkest secret of what Nazi Germany was perpetrating upon millions of innocent people was a forbidden subject.

One afternoon, when her parents weren’t home, she entered her father’s “forbidden room” and rummaged through some drawers. She found a hidden envelope containing images she now presumes were from the camps: an SS soldier holding a pistol, people lying on the ground, shot dead. She was horrified but says she “blocked it out,” never bringing it up with her father. Even after the war up until his death, she never questioned him. His role in the deportation of countless innocents is answerable only by her imagination.

In 1945, when Martens was 16, the family was stationed at Malchow, which she later discovered had a munitions factory where rocket parts were made, probably by Jewish prisoners. The town included part of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. One winter night, while walking home, she saw people in striped uniforms with yellow stars on them being herded onto a train. ,“Jews!” she wrote. “ “I couldn“ t even make out if they were women or men.” They were emaciated and their heads shorn. “They looked cold. …
I had a strange feeling watching them.”
It was a confusing scene, which turned violent. According to Martens, the SS soldiers unleashed their dogs, which pounced on the feeble prisoners. “They could not fight back and fell to the ground with the dogs biting them. The sound of this, of the dogs tearing into the helpless Jews was like a nightmare,” she wrote. But after this, once again, she remained silent.

When asked why, time and again, Martens suppressed feelings that “were scarring her soul,” she has a hard time offering an answer. If she was so upset by these events, why did she not speak or act in accordance with her instincts?

“I tried to put it out of my mind,” she says.

If she heard anything that upset her, she says, she denied it or rationalized it. For the duration of the war, she continued to believe that concentration camps were internment camps “where you could live with your family,” such as the camps in the United States where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during the war.

Martens chose denial until the final moments of the war, when it was clear the country that she was told was invincible was, in fact, losing. Her infallible “god” had lied. Suddenly, her family’s foremost concern was fleeing to the American-controlled part of Germany to avoid confrontation with the Soviet Army; she heard rumors that the Red Army was raping German women.

What followed were the hardships that come in the aftermath of war — her father lost his job, they had no money and many days were on the verge of starvation. “We traded every piece of porcelain, everything we had, we traded for food,” she tells me. “But then I felt like, that’s what we deserve. When you lost. You knew you were guilty, all the people around you, they were all guilty. And I kind of started hating the Germans a little bit.”

When Martens stood in line with her mother to get ration cards, she saw for the first time the arrival of a truck filled with liberated Jews from the camps. Martens was overcome: “My eyes met those of a Jewish girl about my age ahead of me in line who had a yellow star stitched to her sweater. We just stared at each other … she had the saddest look on her face.”

From that moment, Martens says she was determined to “cleanse herself of Nazism.” In Berlin, she had love affairs with two Mexican-American soldiers, the second of whom she married, convinced that falling in love with a minority not only would cleanse her of racism and bigotry but prove to the world she was no longer prejudiced. The marriage did not last, but it earned her passage to the United States and produced two children. It was in an effort to save her marriage that Martens, by then in her 30s, moved with her family from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles.

Ursula Martens (top row, right) poses with her family in a photo taken in Germany. Photo courtesy of Ursula Martens

 

The past was never far enough behind. One of the first things she did in her new city was visit the Museum of Tolerance. “I walked out so weak I nearly fainted,” she wrote of the experience.

But she was determined to confront what she’d done. Little by little, she began reading books about the Holocaust, studying what had really happened. She hated herself even more. Then she got a job in a clothing factory, working for a man named Aaron Gold — a Holocaust survivor. And she fell madly in love with him even though he was married.

At first, Martens was terrified to tell her Jewish employer she was German, but Gold introduced her to other Germans employed at the factory, which put her at ease. Before long, Martens and Gold were staying late at the factory together, so they could sit in Gold’s office and talk. Martens was impressed by his intelligence and success. She felt connected to him as they discussed their lives in Europe and where they had been during the war.

According to Martens, Gold was Czech and went into hiding with his sisters before joining the resistance. In her memoir, she describes Gold getting captured and tortured by the Gestapo, and how she felt when she first saw his scars. “I was so ashamed,” she wrote. “How had I been so crazy? How had a whole nation of Germans been so crazy?”

As their friendship deepened, Martens was forced to re-evaluate the choices and beliefs of her youth. Gold was the first Jew she ever got to know, and rather than discover any of the labels she attributed to Jews in her youth, she discovered instead that she admired and respected him.

They began a passionate affair, which she described in the book with drama and fatalism, the way a teenager might — no two people had ever loved each other more. They eventually broke things off when Gold’s wife became pregnant. But the experience of being loved by a Jew was life altering. “Perhaps clean is the best word,” Martens wrote. “The dirt had finally been washed away.”

But her words belie the struggle that remained. Even if some part of her was healed, she still sought redemption before God. Martens turned to the Founders Church of Religious Science, which exposed her to spirituality for the first time. Its teachings drew on the works of religious figures and thinkers as diverse as Moses, Augustine and Einstein. Excited by the intellectual possibilities the church provided, she became a devotee of the Agape Church. She shared her story with others. She consumed volumes of self-help literature and started to believe in God. “I had finally traded in ‘Mein Kampf’ as a bible for a real bible,” she wrote.

The most significant event of her later life, however, occurred when she befriended a Polish-born Jewish woman named Judith, whose daughter, Ruth, was born after the war in a displaced persons camp. One day, Ruth invited Martens to read a prayer at her son’s bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Am. Martens was overwhelmed by the opportunity, not only to enter a Jewish house of prayer but to contribute to a sacred Jewish ritual. “I could not believe that a former Jew hater like me was going to be part of this age-old ceremony,” she wrote.

It was the first time Martens had ever entered a synagogue, and she says she felt a whirlwind of emotions. Martens was grateful that Ruth and her family had shown her kindness and mercy, despite her past, but she feared others would look at her and see only a Nazi. She was mesmerized by the beauty and stateliness of the synagogue. But she couldn’t avoid flashbacks to the war, “when synagogues had been burned by my fellow members of the Hitler Youth.” She said she felt joy at making this small repair — teshuvah — but she also felt shame.

For all the intellectual and spiritual renaissance she experienced, Martens continues to live with profound regret. She regrets the foolishness of her youth and her inability to think for herself; she regrets enabling a murderous tyrant in his domination scheme; she regrets the way she treated family members, especially her grandfather, who challenged her radicalism to no avail; and she regrets never confronting her father, whom she now thinks of as a war criminal.

Most of all, she says, she regrets that millions of Jews, a people she would later learn to esteem, were annihilated because of Nazis just like her.

“I will never get over the guilt,” she says.

Each day, when she lies down and when she rises, she says she feels 6 million souls gather around her like the wild birds on the wires, haunting her. Martens often uses the word “nightmare” to describe scenes in her life, but she does not speak in metaphor, she speaks in truth. Given the time she lived through, one can only imagine the terror of her dreams.

“I sit in the morning and eat my breakfast, and then I try to meditate, but it’s never meditating. It’s always going back and thinking, what could you do? Where did you fail? That’s always, always there.”

After several hours of talking, Martens grows quiet. She leans back in her chair, staring out past the darkened living room. The silence is palpable, as if she is wrestling with voices in her head. So much has changed. And so much hasn’t.

Finally, she asks, “Do you think a Holocaust survivor can ever get over what they’ve been through?”

This T-shirt was an attempt to reclaim the swastika as a symbol of peace. Screenshot from Twitter.

A T-shirt company tried to reclaim the swastika as a peaceful symbol. It didn’t go so well.


An American company is facing criticism for marketing T-shirts that frame the swastika as a symbol of “love” and “life.”

KA Designs was selling the shirts, which feature white swastikas on a rainbow-colored background with the words “peace” or “zen,” on the U.S.-based clothing company Teespring’s website.

Before the Nazis tainted the swastika by using it as their official symbol during World War II, it had been — and remains — a religious icon in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism for thousands of years.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center slammed the shirts.

Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site, praised the design.

“I want to say that I am in 100% support of the rebranding of the Swastika as a symbol of love,” Anglin said.

KA Designs released its own statement on the controversy.

“The new meanings given to ‘our Swastika’ wouldn’t make any sense if not based on the previous ones. We want to promote love and peace to remind everyone that mankind can be better that what it currently is and was in the past,” the statement read.

By Monday, Teespring had removed the shirts from its site, The Times of Israel reported.

However, The Jerusalem Post pointed out Monday that Teespring was still offering clothing that referenced or painted Nazis in a positive light, such as shirts that said things such as “Hitler did nothing wrong ever” and “We’re all Hitler now.”

“Teespring’s lack of sensitivity on these issues is repulsive and the company’s obvious goal is to shock people and reap the possible financial rewards, under the guise of their supposed creativity,” Ephraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post.

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

High school pupils enact scenes from survivor stories


“David Lenga?”

Gavin Graham, 17, stood up.

“I am David,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Town in Lublin - Marketplace, the Crown Tribunal. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Polish court accuses Minnesota man, 98, of Nazi war crimes


A Polish court has issued an arrest warrant for a 98-year-old Minnesota man it accuses of Nazi war crimes.

The warrant issued Wednesday by the regional court in Lublin is the first step toward requesting the extradition of Michael Karkoc, The Associated Press reported.

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance–Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation said in a statement on its website that Karkoc was one of the commanders of the SS Galicia Division, also known as the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, a unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians during World War II. He is accused of playing a role in the murders of civilians in the villages of Chłaniow and Kolonia Władysławin in July 1944.

The AP first identified Karkoc by name.

Karkoc did not mention his Nazi past when he entered the United States in 1949, which would have prevented him from entering the country, the AP reported.

He now lives in a nursing home in Minneapolis, according to The New York Times. Its report cited family members as saying that he is innocent of the charges, and that he has dementia and is not fit to stand trial.

In a Ukrainian-language memoir published in 1995, Karkoc said he helped found the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion in 1943 in collaboration with Nazi officers to fight on behalf of Germany and against the Soviet Union, The New York Times reported.

Karkoc must appear in court in Poland since the country does not recognize trial in absentia, according to the AP.

The twisted tale of ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ and the Nazis


Adam and Eve are in the news again, or at least two medieval paintings of the biblical progenitors of the human race are.

The paintings’ ownership has been contested for a century by noble families, national governments, museums and batteries of lawyers. The tall, seductive paintings of Adam and Eve, on two separate 6-foot-tall panels, are the work — from nearly 500 years ago — of the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Another chapter in the paintings’ stormy history was added in mid-August in Los Angeles, when U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter ruled that the two paintings, now valued at about $24 million, rightfully belong to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where they have been on display since 1971.

In an extensive front-page article on Aug. 23, the Los Angeles Times reviewed the peregrinations of the case, while adding one more odd Nazi angle to the story.

Picking up in the early 1900s, “Adam” and “Eve” were owned by an aristocratic Russian family, but were seized after the 1917 Russian revolution by the Soviet regime.

In 1931, the Soviets, strapped for foreign currency, sold the Cranach and other paintings at a Berlin auction to the Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. When German armies invaded Holland in 1940, Goudstikker had to flee, leaving behind more than 1,000 works of art.

No less an art collector than Hermann Goering, the Reich’s No. 2 leader, grabbed “Adam” and “Eve” to display in his country estate near Berlin. After World War II, Allied forces recovered the pair of paintings and returned them, along with other artworks, to the Dutch government.

At this point, the Russian nobleman reappeared and reclaimed the Cranach paintings, which he sold in 1971 to Jewish industrialist and art collector Norton Simon, for his museum.

Goudstikker, the Dutch-Jewish art dealer, died in an accident while fleeing the Nazis, leaving behind a son, Edward von Saher. The latter married Marei Langenbein, a German woman and professional ice skater.

The Von Sahers moved to Greenwich, Conn. After the death of her husband, Marei von Saher entered a court battle in the late 1990s to recover the Cranach painting forcibly taken from her late father-in-law, Jacques Goudstikker.

Moving to the present, earlier this year a surprising angle was added, the Los Angeles Times reported, when lawyers for the Norton Simon Museum dug up records showing that the father of plaintiff Marei von Saher had been admitted to the Nazi Party — after affirming that he was neither a Jew nor a Communist — and had fought in the German army at Stalingrad.

Whether an earlier discovery of this information might have influenced the outcome of the case is a matter of speculation. What is certain is that Judge Walter’s ruling in favor of the Norton Simon Museum will be appealed by Von Saher, keeping the controversy alive at least for another few years.

Perhaps the only recent looted art case to approach “Adam” and “Eve” in complexity is the nearly decade-long battle by the late Maria Altman and her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg to recover the Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. That case was dramatized in the 2015 movie “Woman in Gold.” n

Lithuanian city defends recreational events at former Nazi concentration camp


The city of Kaunas in Lithuania defended the operator of a former concentration camp where recreational events are held near the graves of thousands of Jews killed by Nazis and local collaborators.

Deputy Mayor Povilas Maciulis made his defense of the Seventh Fort this week following an article published last month by JTA about summer camps, barbecue parties, treasure hunts and camping activities there. In 2009 the city privatized the site, which is run by a nongovernmental organization, the Military Heritage Center, headed by 37-year-old amateur historian, Vladimir Orlov.

“Yes, there are activities carried out in the museum, however, they are exclusively educational and pertaining to the museum’s purpose,” Maciulis wrote in a statement that he sent to several people a few days after the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, asked the mayor to intervene to have festivities banned from the Seventh Fort – a former military complex that was turned into a camp in 1941.

During a July 12 visit to the Seventh Fort, JTA documented children playing and dancing near the barbecue corner at the entrance to the camp. Asked whether one could have a wedding reception at the site, Orlov told a JTA reporter: “This is not a problem, it sometimes happens here,” and said he would send a price quote in an email, which never arrived.

Zuroff and the Lithuanian novelist Ruta Vanagaite independently confirmed the holding of recreational activities at the Seventh Fort in a Lithuanian-language book they coauthored and published earlier this year. Following the JTA expose, the news portal Lrytas published photos of a camping activity on the grounds.

On Friday, the city posted on its website an interview with Orlov in an unsigned article titled “Journalistic provocation didn’t work out: Kaunas respects and cherishes the memory of Jewish people.”

In it, Orlov is quoted as saying: “No wedding party has even been hosted in the territory of the Fort,” though “on several occasions newlyweds applied … with a request to arrange photo shoots at the Fort, in the museum, surrounded by historic items.”

Orlov said a mass grave for those who died at the camp – which is commemorated only by a pole — accounts for only 2 percent of the camp and that no festivities are held there. According to the book by Zuroff and Vanagaite, Orlov exhumed bones found on the premises that had been reburied there in 2014 with help from the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

The community said in a statement that it has complained to authorities in the past about the absence of commemoration and the festivities.

According to a 2011 report by the Delfi news agency, Orlov has received European Union subsidies that make up part of a $160,000 budget for maintaining the Seventh Fort.

In the interview with Orlov, the city said it had “made a resolution to put in order the place of the Jewish massacre at the Seventh Fort” and that “this autumn the stairs will be arranged close to the mass grave, a place to have a seat and rest.” A “memorial stone will be erected in the location,” it added.

Zuroff told JTA he hoped the city would follow through but that the official reaction so far “is a cop-out.”

The failure to reply to his letter, he said, is indicative of a larger lack of motivation on the part of authorities in Lithuania to commemorate Holocaust victims seriously.

“Instead of treating the problem,” Zuroff said, “the municipality denies its existence.”

Report from Jerusalem: The continuing struggle for Holocaust justice


Seventy-one years after the end of World War II, the struggle for Holocaust justice continues. Germany still prosecutes aging Nazi perpetrators, though they are now in their 90s. In just a few years, however, this part of Holocaust justice will end. The last of the perpetrators living today will be gone – and children do not inherit the guilt of their parents.

But there is another aspect of Holocaust justice that can and must continue. The genocide of the Jews of Europe involved not only mass murder but also mass theft. And though the beneficiaries of such theft may soon be gone, the continuing injustice of their children and grandchildren holding on to former Jewish property can still be remedied.

Late this spring in the United States, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Florida), Senator Chuck Shumer (D-New York) and other senators introduced bi-partisan legislation to address the recovery of stolen art. Actress Dame Helen Mirren – who portrayed Maria Altmann, the claimant of five Nazi-looted Klimt paintings in the 2015 film Woman in Gold – testified at a Senate committee hearing this month in support of the law. If passed, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act would set a six-year statute of limitations on claims for Nazi-era stolen art, which would begin upon actual discovery of the art. This is a major step for art restitution efforts and the most significant the US has seen so far. It is this kind of progressive policy that leads to true justice for victims, but sadly we do not see these initiatives across the.

The latest efforts to reaffirm commitments to Holocaust justice worldwide saw ambassadors and special envoys, non-profit organizations, interested observers and other stakeholders convene at an International Forum on Holocaust Restitution in Jerusalem in June. Organized by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Equality, the Forum focused on the commitments made exactly seven years ago through the Terezin Declaration, a directive issued by 46 states at the conclusion of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague and Terezin in June 2009. Issued on the site of the Terezin concentration camp, the international community agreed in the Terezin Declaration to continue efforts to right the financial wrongs committed against the European Jews and other minority groups during World War II.

The 1990s brought a slew of conferences on how to deal with unresolved issues from the Nazi era, beginning with the 1996 London conference on disposition of the remaining reserves of recovered Nazi gold held since 1946 by the Tripartite Gold Commission. Nazi Germany looted approximately $580 million of gold from the central banks of 15 countries (equivalent to approximately $7.62 billion in today's funds). In London, 41 nations agreed to use the gold not yet restituted to help needy Holocaust survivors.

What made Prague Conference unique was that the convening nations also created a body, the Prague-based European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), to monitor how faithfully were nations honoring the solemn commitments made at Terezin in 2009. The Jerusalem Forum offered a preview of the Immovable Property Restitution Study, to be issued by ESLI later in the year and presented to the EU in Brussels. The Study will be the first-ever comprehensive repository of all legislation passed by 46 states over the last seven decades to deal with the return of land and businesses stolen from the Jews of Europe and other persecuted minorities during the war.

An unfortunate fact that the Study has already revealed is that immovable property restitution and a quest for restorative justice as a tool for promoting cultural tolerance and combatting racism and intolerance in Europe still has a long way to go. It also revealed that ordinary laws dealing with restitution of garden-variety stolen property in ordinary times simply cannot adequately deal with the extraordinary thievery of Jewish property that took place upon the Nazis coming to power in 1933 and continued to the last days of World War II in 1945. Ordinary property laws are written for ordinary experiences, not for the extraordinary times when the largest theft in history took place during the Holocaust.

The inadequacy of ordinary legislation is best illustrated by the case of Poland, home to the largest pre-war Jewish community in Europe. Jews in pre-war Poland constituted a significant segment of the commercial class in the country. Jews were owners of factories, shops and land – both large and small. With the murder of 90% of the 3.3 million Polish Jews, formerly Jewish-owned property came into the hands of both private citizens and the state – and has remained so ever since. The end of Communism in 1989 led to privatization of the Polish economy, with the consequence that former Jewish property nationalized by the state now returned to private hands. But not to the hands of the pre-war Jewish owners or their heirs. Everywhere in Poland, land and businesses owned by the Jews before the war is now owned by others.

Poland is the only country in the European Union that has yet to enact laws dealing with restitution of private property, both taken by the Nazis and later the Communists. Some restitution has taken place, both of the actual properties and through monetary compensation. Successful claimants have relied on a patchwork of Polish laws enacted since 1945 and long-standing provisions of the Polish Civil Code and of the Polish Administrative Procedure Code. Even then, successful claimants have been only those who have demonstrated that their property was nationalized contrary to the letter of the Communist legislation, meaning there is currently no recourse for property “legally” nationalized under then-existing laws.

One-half of pre-war Jewish communal property, where once synagogues and Jewish cemeteries stood, has yet to be restituted. And since such a significant portion of Polish Jewry perished, there remains the issue of heirless property: private Jewish property for which there are no heirs. Under legislation enacted by Poland right after the war, such “abandoned” properties simply became property of the Polish state.

Restitution is not just about the repairing the injustices of the past. Restorative justice that addresses the wrongs of yesterday creates tolerance and affirms civil society. This is what progressive policies like the bi-partisan HEAR Act meaningfully sets out to do, and is an example that others should follow. Restitution supports reconciliation. Holocaust justice by means of restitution of what was stolen from the Jews of Europe can still be accomplished today. Jewish property can be returned to Jewish families and to the Jewish communities from whom such property was taken.

Attorney Kathryn Lee Boyd is Project Co-Director, ESLI Immovable Property Restitution Study. Attorney Kristen Nelson is Project Manager of the Study. Both just returned from Jerusalem where they participated in the International Forum on Holocaust Restitution.

Munich state museum profited from Nazi-looted art, investigation shows


A state museum in Munich profited from art looted by the Nazis at least until the 1990s, a new investigation has revealed.

In a joint probe, the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the British NGO Commission for Looted Art in Europe found that the Bavarian State Galleries and many other such institutions have been sitting on art that was forcibly “purchased” from Jewish collectors under the Nazi regime.

The museums have tried to disguise the origin of the artworks, and even sold some of them without seeking the rightful owners or their heirs, according to the investigation.

The deception began as soon as American authorities handed over the restitution task to the Bavarian administration in 1949, according to the report. Thousands of artworks were in question.

Reportedly, German authorities kept some and sold others at deflated prices, including to members of prominent Nazi families such as the widow of Hermann Goering and Henriette von Schirach (nee Hoffmann), the wife of Hitler’s district governor, or “Gauleiter,” in Vienna.

The newspaper traces the story of how von Schirach came by one small painting, “Picture of a Dutch Square,” by Johannes van der Heydes that originally belonged to a Czech-Jewish couple, the consul general to Vienna, Gottlieb Krause, and his wife, Mathilde. The Krause family fled to the United States in April 1938, putting their possessions in storage.

But the property was later confiscated by the Gestapo and artworks were sold to, among others, the planned “Führermuseum” in Linz, Austria, and to the father of von Schirach, Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s official photographer and an art collector.

After the war, the painting was among the thousands of works to be returned to rightful heirs. But the Bavarian State Galleries sold it back to von Schirach for 300 Deutschmark, and she promptly auctioned it off for 16,000 Deutschmarks to the Xanten Cathedral Association; it was on display in the cathedral until 2011.

Meanwhile, the paper reported, the great-grandson of the Krauses, John Graykowski, has been seeking restitution of the family’s collection in vain.

Half-Jews outlast Nazi regime in ‘The Kaminsky Cure’


It is to the great credit of Christopher New, the author of the “The Kaminsky Cure” (Delphinium Books), that one is able to laugh, if not out loud, at least to smile sadly, while utterly immersed in a story that takes place in Europe during the most shameful time in our not-so-distant history. A time when “a frothy stream of anti-Semitism had begun to flow into the village like s— from the leaking sewer, except that there wasn’t a sewer to get leaks in yet.” 

Perhaps no sewers existed at the time in the small Austrian village in which our young narrator’s life unfolds, but in the Aryan Führer’s rotten mind, a malodorous sewer has been frothing for years, leaking a stream of fecal conspiracies aimed at annihilating the Jewish race.

The frightening developments of Hitler’s plan, from 1939 until his defeat at the end of World War II, is narrated by the son of the Jewish Gabi, who has converted to Christianity, and her husband, Lutheran minister Willibald Brinkmann, who is proud of his Aryan heritage. At age “five and three-quarters,” the youngest of four Brinkmann children breathes life into the story with a wonderfully ironic, humorous and heartbreaking voice, as he attempts to understand the constantly changing Nazi laws regarding his family. Who amongst them is Aryan? Who is a Jew that carries tainted blood, and who is half-Jewish? The answer, of course, is that Willibald is the pure Aryan, although he displays none of the courage the Jewish Gabi displays, and their children, then, are considered “privileged” half-Jews. 

While, one by one, the most basic of rights are snatched away, first from Jews, then from half-Jews, the Brinkmann children — Martin, Ilse, Sara and, eventually, our narrator — are barred from attending school, but not from receiving private education, although that restriction will come, too. So Gabi embarks on selling her jewelry, furniture and anything that would bring in some money for her children’s education. No matter her conversion to Christianity, Gabi remains Jewish at heart, and her children will receive an education, even if the family has to suffer cold and hunger and illness in exchange for private lessons from Frau Kaminsky. And it is Frau Kaminsky, who in an effort to protect Gabi from herself, suggests the “Kaminsky Cure” of the title. She advises Gabi to hold water in her mouth so as to stifle her dangerous tendency to blurt out what she really thinks about the Nazis, who are tightening their claws around her family’s throat.

As the story progresses and Hitler boasts of one triumph after another, the once privileged half-Jews are no longer immune from Nazi atrocities. Laws are in constant flux, as are loyalties of friends and family. The situation becomes unbearable, and mouthfuls of water prove inadequate in curbing Gabi’s rage from spilling out, so she gets into the habit of stuffing a balled handkerchief in her mouth or swallowing scalding coffee. 

Yet, despite all the inflicted horrors, not only by the Nazis but also by Gabi’s self-serving husband and his theatrical outbursts, Gabi manages to retain her humanity. She is naïve, optimistic and hopeful to the extent of declaring that “they do things by the book in Germany, so her name is not on the list yet, no one’s going to touch her,” and, as such, there is no danger in her accompanying the Jewish Frau Professor Goldberg to the train station, which is, of course, destined for the camps. This, when it is dangerous to be seen with a Jew and constant disappearances remain unexplained, adding terror to her son’s fertile mind, as does the “imploring voice” of Great-Aunt Hegwig before her disappearance, “Remember us!” And always that most terrifying of all childhood fears: What if mother disappears like the rest?  A logical fear that adds tension to an already tense situation.

The war ends, cartons labeled CARE arrive at the Brinkmann home from America, once full-fledged Nazis suddenly deny any affiliation with the party, friends turned enemies spin like Chanukah dreidels and become supposed friends again. They smile, bow to the Brinkmann family, have the audacity to look them in the eye and declare, “How pleased they are that everything turned all right.” The truth, as we all know it, is that nothing is the same and, “what was there is gone and cannot be replaced.”  

Toward the end of this gripping and intelligent novel, I found myself slowing the pace of my reading, savoring the artistry of New’s narrative and meditating on the internal journey of the characters rendered on the page with such admirable insight. This is a novel well worth reading, not only because of the fresh, poignant manner through which it brings to life the struggles of a family during the reign of the Third Reich, or because it reminds us that no matter how long ago Hitler’s atrocities might have occurred, if they fail to illicit horror and disbelief, then we have ceased to be human. “The Kaminsky Cure” is also admirable for its attempt to answer the often-asked question of why millions of Jews followed orders without resisting, even when they knew the trains they boarded were speeding toward crematoriums. 

The answer, according to New, at least for the half-Jews, is that they believed that any resistance on their part would endanger the lives of the rest of their loved ones, whose names were not yet on the Gestapo’s list. 

DORA LEVY MOSSANEN is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal. Her latest book is “Scent of Butterflies.”

Helen Mirren urges Senate to pass bill that would assist recovery of stolen art


Helen Mirren testified to the U.S. Senate about the importance of restoring art stolen by Nazis to its rightful owners.

Mirren, the Oscar-winning British actress, appeared Tuesday at a hearing on a bill that would grant claimants more time to reclaim stolen art works.

Mirren said she became steeped in the issue while playing Maria Altmann in the 2015 film “Woman of Gold.” Altmann battled the Austrian government for years until in 2004 she recovered works stolen from her family by the Nazis.

“Victims of Nazi theft should not have to demonstrate the boldness and capacity that Maria Altmann had to reclaim what was rightly theirs,” Mirren said.

“When the Jewish people were disposed of their art, they lost their heritage,” she said. “To have no memories is to have no family.”

Mirren was testifying before a joint meeting of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittees on the Constitution and on Oversight, chaired respectively by Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, who together with Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are sponsors of the bill.

The bill, introduced in April, would reset the statute of limitations, making it six years from the date that the art in question is identified and located, and from when the claimant has shown evidence of possession of the art. In some cases, defendants were able to avoid restitution because states had statutes of limitations as short as three years.

The full committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said during the hearing he would expedite consideration of the bill.

Also testifying at the hearing were a number of experts on stolen art, including Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress and the chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization

“Make no mistake, this crime continues to stain the art world,” Lauder said, referring to the wholesale theft of Jewish-owned art by the Nazis.

Welcome the refugees


In the 1940s, politicians and the State Department saw the war ravaging Europe and said only Christians could enter this country as refugees, and only a select few at that. No Jews welcome here. A favorite argument for turning away Jews fleeing Europe was that they somehow had been infiltrated by Nazis.

With ISIS on the rampage and war devastating Syria, among other places, many politicians today are singing a similar tune. Only a select few refugees can come in, and they must all be Christians, say Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.

“No Muslims welcome here” is the theme frequently invoked in the name of national security.

No Syrian refugees in my state, said 26 governors — all but one Republicans — who refuse to admit any Syrian refugees, whatever god they worship. That includes Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Rick Scott, whose states have some of the country’s largest populations of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Christie said not even “orphans under the age of 5 should be admitted.” Taking care of them would be too much of a burden, he complained.

Jewish-American leaders are struggling with the question of refugees. Many organizations have been raising money for humanitarian groups, particularly in Jordan, helping Syrian refugees, reports New York-based The Jewish Week, but when it comes to admitting them to this country, they urge caution.

Rabbi Mark Dratch of the Orthodox movement’s Rabbinical Council of America told The Jewish Week that Muslim countries should be pressured to take greater numbers. He’s right. Jordan and Turkey are overwhelmed with refugees, but the others could and should do a lot more.

But that does not mean our own doors should be slammed in their face, and Jewish leaders, more than most, should know that.

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is virtually alone among Jewish organizations supporting President Barack Obama’s decision to admit 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that although Israel has treated some 1,000 wounded Syrians, it will not take in any Syrian refugees because the country is “too small.” Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog disagrees. “Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.”

Some Republicans who aspire to be the leader of the free world sound like bigoted xenophobes. Most conspicuous are ones whose own parents were refugees from brutal dictatorships or are married to immigrants.

Their rationale is that some jihadi terrorists may sneak in with the refugees (one apparently who did was among those in the French attacks on Nov. 13), so all refugees should be banned. 

Critics like to point to the 9/11 hijackers to justify anti-immigration attitudes. Sen. Marco Rubio, who favored immigration reform before he was against it, said “some” of the hijackers “had overstayed [their] student visas.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said all 19 were here on expired student visas.

Neither presidential wannabe did his homework. All 19 had entered the country legally; only one on a student visa, which he did not overstay, and the others on tourist or business visas, according to Factcheck.org.

The only Jew running for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pledged to stand against Islamophobia and racism and backed Obama’s decision to admit some 10,000 refugees. So have his two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, both of whom suggested raising the number to 65,000.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said, “We can protect our safety and our humanitarian values,” and we shouldn’t “slam the door on them.”

But that’s exactly what Republicans want to do.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would shut down the government in order to keep them out. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have written to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he block all funding for Syrian refugee resettlement.

Donald Trump, warning that Syrian refugees could be ISIS’ “Trojan horse,” said if he were president, he’d consider closing American mosques that have radical clerics and limiting civil liberties for all Americans.

Sen. Cruz (R-Texas), the son of a Cuban immigrant, said we should permit only Christian refugees because, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Has no one told Ted or Jeb about Dylann Roof, who killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C.; neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross, who got the death penalty last week for killing three people in 2014 in Kansas who he thought were Jews; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; or the Unabomber?

Or about those law-abiding folks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Army of God and the Phineas Priesthood?

And what about the mass murderers responsible for shootings at Newtown, Conn.; Virginia Tech; Aurora, Colo.; Centennial, Colo.; and Roseburg, Ore., to name only a few?

Ted and Jeb, there wasn’t a foreigner among them. No Muslims, as far as I could learn. All Christians.

Obama said, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion. That’s not who we are.” He may not, but many of those who want his job do, and that should scare a Jewish community that remembers — or should — what it’s like to be shut out when the alternative is discrimination and maybe death. 

Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Remembering the November 1938 pogroms known as ‘Kristallnacht’


What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The date

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

The target

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of one stage, beginning of another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Nazi propaganda had lifelong effect on many Germans


Germans who grew up during the 1930s are far more likely than their younger countrymen to have negative attitudes about Jews, according to a new study of anti-Semitism in Germany.

The study, released Monday by American and Swiss researchers, found that anti-Semitic views were particularly strong among Germans raised in regions of the country that were known for anti-Semitism even before Hitler came to power, The Associated Press reported.

According to the researchers, who analyzed surveys conducted in 1996 and 2006, the findings indicated that Nazi propaganda was highly effective, especially when it confirmed existing beliefs.

“It’s not just that Nazi schooling worked, that if you subject people to a totalitarian regime during their formative years it will influence the way their mind works,” Hans-Joachim Voth of the University of Zurich, one of the study’s authors, told AP. “The striking thing is that it doesn’t go away afterward.”

Voth added that the propaganda was particularly effective when “the overall environment where children grew up was already a bit anti-Semitic. It tells you that indoctrination can work, it can last to a surprising extent, but the way it works has to be compatible to something people already believe.”

Nazi refuge discovered in Argentine jungle, archaeologist says


A team of archaeologists and researchers discovered what they believe was a refuge for Nazis in an Argentine forest near the border with Paraguay.

It is believed that the Nazis prepared the hideout in the first half of the 1940s as a place to flee should World War II not go in their favor, but they did not use the refuge.

The director of the Urban Archaeology Center of the Buenos Aires University, Daniel Schavelzon, is leading the investigative team that is working at Misiones National Park in Teyu Cuare, a province in the northeastern cone of Argentina.

His team discovered German coins minted between 1938 and 1941, and porcelain dishes made by the German Meissen Company between 1890 and 1949.

“We found here an extraordinary type of construction, rare,” Schavelzon told Argentina’s Clarin newspaper. “We have not yet reached a final conclusion, but our first explanation, or idea, is that we have found a refuge for the Nazi hierarchy. The building is very exceptional, with objects and characteristics of building that are not from the region.”

Supporting the theory, he said, is the fact that the walls of the hideout were 10 feet thick and it was located in an inaccessible location.

In a video interview from the excavations, Schavelzon said he rejects the theory that Nazi official Martin Borman, who served as Adolf Hitler’s private secretary, had lived there.

When the Nazis did enter Argentina, they reportedly did so with the blessing of Argentine President Juan Peron and thus did not need the hiding places and the plans to spirit them there.

“We think that we found a huge refuge that ultimately they didn’t use,” said Schavelzon, who also is a researcher on the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, or CONICET.

Misiones province is located on the frontier between Argentina and Paraguay, which is populated by a large number of European immigrants. In 1940, Misiones had a population of 190,000, including 80,000 immigrants — 14,000 from Germany,

“It is very interesting scientific research and we believe that full transparency is crucial to understanding the scope of the Nazi presence in Argentina and South America,” Sergio Widder, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for Latin America, told JTA. “I believe that the enthusiasm should be balanced with a professional approach, which seems to be the case. It is important to note that Schavelzon makes clear that no secret hiding plans were needed in Argentina, since the protection of the Nazis was out in the open.”