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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First cousins who thought entire family died in Holocaust united in Israel


Two pairs of Polish Jewish siblings, who each believed their entire families died in the Holocaust, met for the first time at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

The tale started earlier this year when one of the siblings, Fania Blakay, found a testimony in the Yad Vashem database about her father. The testimony had been filled out by her father’s brother-in-law, who Blakay had been told had died.

The brother in-law, it turns out, had actually survived the Holocaust and immigrated with his wife and daughters to Israel. The daughters — Blakay’s cousins — were living in Israel.

On Tuesday, Blakay and her brother Gennadi Band — both of whom also live in Israel — were united with their first cousins Henia Moskowitz and Rywka Patchnik.

“I am deeply moved and very happy,” Blakay said, according to a statement. “My father always searched for members of his family and dreamed of finding them. He was alone. But ultimately, in this meeting today, his dream has finally come true.”

Moskowitz said that when she initially received a call from Yad Vashem, she did not believe the news.

“At first, I thought this news was a mistake. However, today when we met, I felt a connection at first sight; my family has grown overnight,” Moskowitz said. “Thanks to Yad Vashem, we discovered that we are not alone.”

Though the family was originally from Warsaw, it turned out that the cousins, all of whom were born in 1924-1942, and their parents had all fled to the Soviet Union during the war.

‘Demon’ arises from Poland’s past


So much of Jewish life is about remembering, keeping Shabbat, yahrzeit dates and who in the family slighted whom, that when it comes to a movie about forgetting, such as the Polish and Israeli film “Demon,” we may be at a loss. But as we peer through the edgy gloom of this production, which takes place in an isolated farmhouse in Poland, and see that what some of the film’s characters want to bury is crucial to our collective memory, we have eerie reckoning to the theme, as if taken possession by its message.

This is not a typical horror picture — there are no slashings, screams or chainsaws — yet “Demon,” directed by Marcin Wrona, frightens with a more modern form of horror: that of forgetting the lasting impact the Holocaust has had in Poland.

Stalking this film with a gaunt presence, a groom-to-be, Piotr (Israeli actor Itay Tiran), arrives from England into the Polish countryside on the eve of his wedding to inspect a deserted farmhouse and barn that he and his fiancée, Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), have been given as a gift by her parents. Mysteriously drawn to a spot on the surrounding property, he discovers a pile of human bones, which in the rain seem to swallow him into the ground. We are not sure what effect this accident might have (though the film’s title provides a heavy hint) until after the couple’s very Polish church wedding. The first clue comes after the ceremony, when Piotr, by custom, is supposed to dash a shot glass against the wall but instead places it on the floor and prepares to step on it. Is that he is becoming a Jew the horror?

“It is the first sign he is in a different culture. He doesn’t know who is,” the film’s producer, Olga Szymanska, said.

The screenplay, written by Pawel Maslona and Wrona, is loosely based on the play “Adherence” by Piotr Rowicki, a story of a dybbuk: in Jewish folklore, a wandering, often malevolent spirit that takes possession of a living person. In film, “the dybbuk theme has not been touched in Polish culture for 80 years,” Szymanska said, referring to S. Ansky’s play “The Dybbuk,” later made into a movie, in which a bride is possessed.

The word “dybbuk” is derived from the Hebrew verb dabak, meaning to adhere or to cling, but it is not until late in the film that we discover what — or who — is doing the clinging.

As Piotr’s behavior grows progressively more erratic, and the wedding party, sometimes humorously, devolves into the reception from hell, the father-in-law tries to cover up things by plying his guests with more and more alcohol. After Piotr collapses to the floor in what looks like an epileptic seizure, a doctor and priest (both are guests) are summoned to consult on his condition.

“There are no special effects in the film,” Szymanska said. Yet a special chill, unfortunately known to many Jewish viewers and based on the fog of history, creeps in. When the dybbuk is questioned by a local elder, a teacher who is Jewish, she reveals (speaking through Piotr) that her name is Hanna. She is a local, young Jewish woman who mysteriously disappeared in the pre-World War II era, explains the teacher, who even remembers her.

Speaking in Yiddish, Hanna talks about a promised husband and returning to carry out what “death interrupted.”

As rumor quickly spreads through the party that the groom is possessed, the father-in-law’s fear that the reception will be ruined spins out of control. For him, this is the real horror story. Standing, play-like on a stage, he regales his inebriated guests, saying, “We must forget what we didn’t see here.” When he tries to explain away the groom’s possession as a “collective hallucination,” the film itself is taken over by the dybbuk of history.

“The whole movie is not about the Holocaust,” said Szymanska, who feels it is more about “the past” in which, for centuries, “both Poles and Jews lived together.” Yet, it is the forgetting and remembering of that side-by-side neighbor relationship between Polish Christians and Jews that currently has Poland possessed.

Since the publication of “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” by Jan T. Gross in 2001, a book that details a July 1941 massacre in which, Gross says, 1,600 Polish Jews were murdered (later estimates give a lower number) by a group of non-Jewish Poles, the issue of whether Poles collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust has erupted into a painful national debate. Even though the country has a National Institute of Remembrance to investigate such charges, just this year, the country’s right-leaning government has proposed a new law, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “that would authorize a three-year prison sentence to anyone who claims that Poland collaborated with Nazi Germany.”

“Demon,” released in 2015 in Poland into this atmosphere, got caught up in this national debate. “There were some right-wing people who didn’t like it, and said it was this kind of wave of movie that’s anti-Polish and accuses Poles of killing Jews during the second world war,” Szymanska said.

Sadly, Wrona, who was married to Szymanska, will not be able to participate in the discussion his film might spark here, as on Sept. 19, 2015, at the time of the Gdynia Polish Film Festival, where “Demon” was being shown in competition, he took his own life in his hotel room.

Explaining what she thought drew her husband to the film, Szymanska recalled that “Marcin was very attracted to mysticism.” In the film, he “found an intersection to recall our two nations’ pasts,” she explained. He was interested “in what a modern dybbuk would tell us.”

“Demon” opens Sept. 9 at Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.

Demonstration by Polish soccer fans features burning Jews in effigy


Several dozen soccer fans in Poland hung a banner containing anti-Semitic language at a train station in Lodz at a demonstration that featured the burning of Jews in effigy.

Approximately 50 men were photographed on a bridge at the Lodz Kaliska station on Aug. 26 with a banner reading “19.08, today the Jews got a name. Let them burn,” followed by an obscenity, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported.

The message referenced to the ŁKS Łódź team, which was founded in 1908 and many Poles associate with Jews because of the rich Jewish history of Lodz. The city in central Poland had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust, partly because it was a capital of the local textile industry.

The fans, some wearing balaclavas, set fire to at least three puppets hanging from the bridge and are understood to symbolize burning Jews.

Police are looking for the demonstrators, who are suspected of incitement to racial hatred and intimidation, the daily reported.

European Union allocates $1.5 million to expand Lodz train station museum


The European Union allocated $1.5 million for the expansion of the museum at the Radegast train station in Lodz, from which Jews were shipped to death camps during the Holocaust.

The money will be used to modernize the building and construct a multimedia model of the Lodz Ghetto, which existed from April 1940 to August 1944.

During the Holocaust, the Nazis sent Jews from the ghetto to death camps from the Radegast station. After the war the station fell into disrepair and appeared to be forgotten. A museum was opened there 10 years ago.

The multimedia model of the Lodz Ghetto, or Litzmannstadt Ghetto, as it was known in German, will be made on a scale of 1:1400 and will show the ghetto as it appeared in May 1944.

“Through multimedia, visitors will gain an opportunity to meet and listen to the witness of history,” according to Piotr Machlanski, director of the Museum of Independence Traditions in Lodz, which owns and operates the museum at the Radegast station.

The work at the station is expected to be completed in 2019.

Nazi ‘gold train’ dig in Poland may finally separate fact from fiction


Treasure hunters in Poland will start digging Tuesday for a hidden train long rumored to be filled with Nazi gold from the end of World War II.

Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, who a year ago said they had located the train using ground-penetrating radar, will lead 35 volunteers on the privately funded dig in southwestern Poland.

“The train is not a needle in the haystack — if there is one, we will find it,” project spokesman Andrzej Gaik told Agence France-Presse.

The team should know by Thursday whether there is a train at the site, which is located near old railway tracks between the cities of Wroclaw and Walbrzych, Koper told Polish television. Three 300-foot-deep holes are to be drilled with special equipment. The dig is to be live-streamed online.

According to local legend, as German forces fled the Soviet army in 1945, they hid the train containing gold, gems, weapons and valuable art in a secret tunnel near Wroclaw. Despite decades of rumors and amateur searches, the train’s existence has never been proved.

Richter and Koper last year reported finding soil anomalies that hinted at the train’s existence. A study by the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow found no such evidence, but concluded there may be a tunnel at the site.

“If we find a tunnel, then that is also a success. Maybe the train is hidden inside that tunnel,” Gaik told AFP.

During the Holocaust, the Nazis melted down jewelry from Jews and other prisoners sent to concentration camps. As Allied forces advanced at the end of the war, the Nazis sent the gold back to Germany. According to experts, not all the gold has been found.

Poland proposes to jail users of term ‘Polish death camps’


The Polish government proposed a bill that would make the use of terms like “Polish death camps” a crime punishable by jail time.

The bill, which the government put forward Tuesday, would prohibit assigning blame to Poland for the actions of Nazi Germany. Historians and artists would be exempt in their work.

Drafted by the Justice Ministry, the measure also would criminalize accusing Poland of international war crimes or crimes against peace or humanity. The punishment would be a fine or up to three years in jail.

“Diplomatic actions to counteract the falsification of our history and protect the good name of Poland and the Polish people have proved ineffective,” the government said in a statement Tuesday. “There are still comments, especially in the foreign media, suggesting the participation of Poland and Poles in the crimes of World War II.”

Anti-Russian sentiment is fueling a nationalist revival in Poland, where some historians, politicians and activists are engaged in a campaign to absolve their countrymen of any wrongdoing during World War II and the Holocaust, which at time shades into revisionist history. In March, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum created software that lets journalists know when they have used the offending term “Polish death camp” and corrects it to read “Nazi death camp in Poland.”

Officials of the Law and Justice Party, which rose to power last year, have honored Poles who saved their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. But historians who have looked into Polish complicity have been branded traitors by far-right activists.

Jan Gross, a Polish-American historian who wrote about the slaying of Jews by Poles in Jedwabne in 1941, is the subject of a criminal investigation in Poland opened earlier this year for “insulting the Polish nation.” Gross wrote that Poles killed more Jews during the Holocaust than they did Germans.

Pope: I felt the presence of the souls of murdered at Auschwitz


Pope Francis said during his silent visit last week to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau that he felt the souls of those murdered there.

“The great silence of the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was more eloquent than any word spoken could have been,” he said Wednesday during his weekly public audience at the Vatican.

Francis visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, now a memorial museum, on Friday during a four-day trip to Poland to mark the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day. He chose not to make a speech or public statement there, but to visit in silent prayer.

“In that silence I listened: I felt the presence of all the souls who passed through that place; I felt the compassion, the mercy of God, which a few holy souls were been able to bring even into that abyss,” he said. “In that great silence, I prayed for all the victims of violence and war: and there, in that place, I realized more than ever how precious is memory; not only as a record of past events, but as a warning, and a responsibility for today and tomorrow, that the seed of hatred and violence not be allowed to take root in the furrows of history.”

Visiting Auschwitz, the pope said, made him pray to resolve the evils of today’s world.

“Looking upon that cruelty, in that concentration camp,” he said, “I thought immediately of the cruelties of today, which are similar: not as concentrated as in that place, but everywhere in the world; this world that is sick with cruelty, pain, war, hatred, sadness; and this is why I always ask you for the prayer: that the Lord give us peace.”

Jedwabne mayor calls for exhumation of Jewish mass grave


The mayor of a Polish town where locals killed and buried hundreds of Jews added his voice to a growing chorus of officials seeking to exhume the bodies from a mass grave to see if German soldiers were the killers.

Michael Chajewski, the mayor of the town in northeastern Poland, told Gazeta Wyborcza late last week that he supports exhumation. His backing of exhumation comes amid an uproar over a noncommittal statement by Poland’s education minister on television saying that even though state historians and leaders have blamed locals for the pogrom on July 10, 1941, she did not know who killed the Jews of Jedwabne 75 years ago.

“Yes. I’m going to do it,” Chajewski is quoted as telling the paper when asked if he would sign a petition calling for the exhumation. “You need to determine how many people were killed and by whom to finally dispel doubt.”

Poland’s state-owned Institute of National Remembrance determined several dozen locals killed at least 340 Jews at Jedwabne, some of whom they burned inside a barn. The incident, one of at least 20 pogroms against Jews by Poles during or immediately after the Holocaust, was largely unknown in Poland prior to the 2001 publication of a book by historian Jan Gross.

But the institute “said that at the crime scene, dozens of bullets were found. It’s not all that clear,” Chajewski said. Revisionist historians say the bullets mean German troops were likely responsible for the killing because Poles were prohibited from carrying guns in July 1941, when the German army was already present – though not fully controlling – the area. But dozens of testimonies by witnesses and survivors speak of the killing as done by willing locals.

The historical record on Jedwabne is highly controversial because many Poles perceive their nation, where Nazis murdered 3 million non-Jewish Poles in addition to 3 million Jewish ones, as a victim of Nazi genocide. The Jedwabne discovery forced many to readjust this perception to include also some acts by local perpetrators.

Some forensic excavation was already carried out at Jedwabne in 2001 until it was stopped for fear it violated Jewish religious laws on disturbing graves unnecessarily. But calls to exhume the bodies have intensified since the election last year of Poland’s right-wing president, Andrzej Duda.

Duda acknowledged the role of Poles in killing Jews earlier this month. But last year he attacked his predecessor for apologizing in 2011 for Jedwabne and denied that such events actually occurred.

“We did not, as we are falsely accused by others, participate in the Holocaust,” Duda said in a 2015 televised debate. “Lord knows that Poles didn’t take part in the Holocaust.”

The Jedwabne petition, which is being circulated by Ewa Kurek, a far-right historian from Lublin, received coverage in Polish media amid other articles about revisionist tendencies on Jedwabne, including at the Institute of National Remembrance.

Piotr Gontarczyk, a deputy director at the institute, said last week that “it is difficult to pursue a debate on the topic without a complete exhumation.”

Marek Chrzanowski, a historian with the institute who is running for its presidency, said Monday: “I also believe that you must reconfigure the exhumation and get to the truth because this case harms the image of Poles.”

Queried by JTA, an institute spokeswoman said her organization does not support exhumation as a matter of policy, though some of its historians may take a different view.

75 years after Jedwabne pogrom, Poland wrestles with evidence of complicity


As German army troops invaded eastern Poland, Ichak Lewin’s family fled their town of Wizna.

On July 10, 1941, the Lewins approached the nearby town of Jedwabne, where hundred of Jews lived and had the means to shelter other Jews. But  the Lewins soon realized they had come to the wrong place.

“We were on the cart when we smelled a fire and another bad smell,” said Lewin, recalling the day 75 years ago that has changed how millions in Poland and beyond think of the Holocaust years in that country.

Lewin was 10 when Jedwabne residents massacred hundreds of their Jewish neighbors, including three of Lewin’s uncles and most of his classmates. The townspeople, led by their mayor, rounded up at least 340 Jews and burned them alive inside a barn.

“When the smell reached us, so did word from non-Jewish passers-by that the people of Jedwabne burned the Jews,” Lewin said.

Known to few people in post-communist Poland prior to the 2001 publication of a book about it, the Jedwabne massacre was one of about 20 anti-Semitic atrocities during or immediately after the Holocaust perpetrated by Poles. It prompted the country’s previous president, Bronislaw Komorowski, to “beg forgiveness” for the actions of “perpetrators among the nation of victims,” as he said in 2011.

But in a country where anti-Russian sentiment is fueling a nationalist revival, historians, politicians and activists are engaged in a campaign to discredit the inconvenient accounts from Jedwabne and those who exposed them.

Lewin, who survived the war because he was rescued by Polish villagers, recalled the massacre at Jedwabne on Sunday to some 150 visitors who attended a low-key ceremony commemorating its 75th anniversary.

None of the villagers participated in the memorial event, which the mayor could not attend due to a previous engagement.

Sobbing, Lewin addressed his remarks in Yiddish to a photograph of his classmates, including one of his cousins, who were burned alive.

“I made a life for myself in Israel, but know that I think of you all the time,” he said at the ceremony, which was attended by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Poland’s undersecretary of state, Wojciech Kolarski.

Kolarski, who chose not to speak at the event, told JTA that the Poles who killed Jews “damaged an ancient tradition” of coexistence in Poland. Poland’s right-wing president, Andrzej Duda, conveyed a similar message when he spoke earlier this month at the site of another pogrom, committed in 1946, against Jews in the town of Kielce.

But before Duda was elected president last year, he attacked his predecessor for apologizing in 2011 for Jedwabne and denied that such events actually occurred.

“We did not, as we are falsely accused by others, participate in the Holocaust,” Duda said in a 2015 televised debate. “Lord knows that Poles didn’t take part in the Holocaust.”

He has since changed his tune, at least publicly.

At Kielce, vowing to reject anti-Semitism, Duda said: “Also ordinary people were involved in the attack. I leave it down to historians and sociologists to determine how it happened and why it happened, why people reacted in this particular way.”

A senior state historian this week offered one answer to the questions raised by Duda: He blamed Jews of brutality against non-Jews before the 1941 German invasion, when the part of Poland that included Jedwabne was controlled by Russia.

“Poles took part in the crime” at Jedwabne, but pro-communist sympathies by Jews and “hateful acts perpetrated by Jews” stoked hate against Jews, Piotr Gontarczyk, a deputy director at the Institute of National Remembrance, said in an interview that Radio Poland published on the 75th anniversary.

The 2001 book “Neighbors” by the Princeton University historian Jan Gross, which exposed the Jedwabne massacre, has statistics and accounts that “don’t add up,” Gontarczyk said. Gross, he added, “is no historian.”

Gross, the Norman B. Tomlinson ’16 and ’48 professor of war and society and a history professor at Princeton, migrated to the United States from Poland in 1969.

Two “criminal ideologies are responsible for the events in Jedwabne,” Gontarczyk said in the interview: communism and Nazism. To determine what happened at Jedwabne, the bodies must be exhumed, he added – a scenario many Jews oppose on religious grounds.

Revisionist statements among officials such as Gontarczyk are a new development, according to Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“Progress was made under previous governments toward confronting the Jedwabne massacre, which is emblematic of other pogroms by Poles against Jews,” Zuroff said. “The current right-wing government wants to turn back the page and rewrite it as it used to be.”

But he said historical documentation exists not only about Jedwabne – where witnesses said one Jewish girl was raped and decapitated by people who playfully kicked around her severed head – but also about 20 other cases of mass murder of Jews by Poles during or shortly after the Holocaust.

At least 1,500 and possibly 2,500 people died in the pogroms, Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.

Jonathan Greenblatt, left, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, and Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, conferring at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, July 10, 2016. 

One of the incidents occurred a month after the Jedwabne killings in the nearby village of Bzury, where Polish prosecutors in 2013 said 20 Jewish women were raped and then butchered by locals. In another massacre in Wasosz, axe-wielding villagers hacked and buried hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.

For Poland’s Law and Justice party, Zuroff said, fully acknowledging these events “puts at stake their whole national identify because it changes the perception of Poland as a victim nation.”

Non-Jewish Poles certainly suffered in the war. The Nazis killed 3 million non-Jewish Poles in addition to 3 million Jewish ones and, as “lesser humans” under the Nazi racial code, Poles were not invited to collaborate in the same way as Hungarians, Romanians and the people of Baltic nations.

And like the people of other countries controlled by Russia during communism, Poles also suffered oppression and atrocities directed from Moscow – a trauma that has left widespread anger toward Russia and is helping the right wing garner votes in reaction to President Vladimir Putin’s current expansionist politics.

For Duda’s right-wing government especially, the discussion about Jedwabne clearly touched a nerve.

In recent months, Polish authorities began pursuing a criminal investigation of Gross, who exposed the massacre. Police questioned him in April for allegedly violating Poland’s law against “insulting the Polish nation” because he said in an interview recently that more Jews than Germans died at the hands of Poles during World War II.

In February, Duda’s office ordered an examination of the possibility of withdrawing a state honor given to Gross.

In parallel, the Polish government has led efforts to highlight the actions of 6,600 Poles who saved Jews, including by opening a museum in their honor this year and erecting three monuments for them in Warsaw alone. Poland has the highest number of saviors in absolute terms, though other countries have a higher proportion of non-Jews who saved Jews.

While Polish saviors deserve recognition, Gross said, in the current atmosphere there is a fear that “it’s an attempt to create an alternative narrative, to distract,” he told JTA.

If that is true, the effort is not going very well. Last year, the Jedwabne debate was rekindled following the publication of an English translation of a book written in 2004 in Polish by historian Anna Bikont that puts the Jedwabne death toll at double the 340 estimate of state historians. It also alleges that locals shot Jews trying to escape.

“I was saved by Poles to whom I owe my life,” Lewin said at the Jedwabne monument, a black stone whose center features a charred barn door. “But on July 10,” he said of that infamous day in 1941, “we were safer with the Germans.”

Locals absent at ceremony in Poland marking postwar atrocity


Some 150 people attended a commemoration on the 75th anniversary of a massacre of hundreds of Polish Jews by their neighbors in the country’s northeast.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also attended Sunday’s ceremony in the town of Jedwabne, whose history is controversial in Poland because it involves complicity in the Holocaust by members of a nation that many perceive primarily as a victim of the German Nazi occupation.

Commemorating the victims in Jedwabne “grounds our work, which is to fight anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism,” Greenblatt said.

At Jedwabne, a few dozen perpetrators burned alive at least 340 Jews.

The mayor of Jedwabne did not attend the event, citing previous engagements. Nor did any of the townspeople, according to Henryk Zandek, 90, a non-Jewish man who lived in Jedwabne for years after World War II.

Ichak Lewin, an 85-year-old survivor who lives in Israel, sobbed when he recalled how the entire Jewish population of his village near Jedwabne was “taken to the barn and burned alive,” he said. Warned by locals, his family escaped the roundup in nearby woods, where a Polish family hid them. Lewin said he later worked in a German army kitchen.

Under Poland’s Communist governments, which blurred sectarian divides and at times displayed anti-Semitic tendencies, Jedwabne’s Holocaust-era record was little known until 15 years ago, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA at the event.

In 2001, the publication of a book on Jedwabne by Princeton historian Jan Gross triggered a public debate on the issue.

In a nation where the Nazis killed 3 million non-Jewish Poles in addition to 3 million Jewish ones, “some found it, and some find it, difficult to accept the very bitter truth” about Jedwabne, Schudrich said. But since then, polls suggest that today approximately half of Poles have come to accept their compatriots’ role at Jedwabne, Schudrich said.

Polish Undersecretary of State Wojciech Kolarski represented Polish President Andrzej Duda at the event, where he laid a wreath at the monument for the victims.

“To be clear about what happened here: Polish citizens killed their own Polish compatriots of Jewish origin in a way that damaged a long tradition of living side-by-side,” Kolarski told JTA. “There can be no justification for that.”

At least 1,500 Jews died at the hands of Poles during the Holocaust or immediately after it, Schudrich said.

Some Polish politicians in the past denied that Poles killed Jews in Jedwabne, including former senator Jadwiga Stolarska, who in 2001 stated in Parliament that Germans were behind the killings and that “there was no way a Pole could kill a Jew.”

In 2011, Poland’s then-president, Bronislaw Komorowski, said of the centrist Civic Platform: “I beg forgiveness” for what happened at Jedwabne. In a nation of victims, he said, “there were perpetrators.”

Duda, the current president of the center-right Law and Justice party, last year attacked Komorowski’s statement in what some observers considered a step backward from acceptance of the role of Poles in the massacre at Jedwabne.

“I believe it is extremely important for us that we did not, as we are falsely accused by others, participate in the Holocaust,” Duda said at a televised debate last year. “The Lord knows that the Polish people did not take part in the Holocaust.”

Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths commemoration group, said the event “shows us how seriously Polish society takes this matter,” citing Kolarski’s presence and that of the national media. Unlike some of its neighbors, he said, Poland is “standing up to its sometimes difficult past and not shirking from often painful truths.”

Jewish artifacts in glass decanter of valuables found in Polish town


A backhoe operator working on a construction site in Poland dug up a glass decanter filled with valuables, including Jewish artifacts.

Among the objects discovered inside the decanter found June 15 in Minsk Mazowiecki were kiddush cups, silver cutlery, a gold pocket watch and gold coins. The owner of the objects, whose material value was estimated to be about $10,000, was not identified.

The discovery was reported Thursday on the website of the city, which is located about 25 miles east of Warsaw. Minsk Mazowiecki, in central Poland, was the site of a Jewish ghetto that was liquidated in July 1942.

Officials at the Museum of Minsk Mazowiecki said the arrangement of the objects shows that they were buried in a hurry and the owner intended to return for them.

The Provincial Conservator Office will decide where the items will go; the local museum would like to keep them in the town.

Belarusian Nobel Prize laureate accuses Poles of persecuting Jews in Holocaust


A Belarusian Nobel Prize laureate has stirred controversy in Poland by saying that many Poles, including priests, participated in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Svetlana Alexievich, who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, made the accusation last month during a visit to New York, the news website WPolityce reported earlier this week.

“You know what the Poles did with the Jews,” Alexievich was quoted as saying on June 12 at the Brooklyn Central Library during a meeting with readers. “Poles were worst of all in how they treated the Jews. Priests directly called for killing Jews in their sermons.”

 

The statement touched a nerve in Poland, where the government is engaged in a campaign that seeks to counter claims of Holocaust-era complicity by Poles and highlight efforts to save Jews.

Poland’s right-wing government is advancing legislation that would criminalize the use of the term “Polish death camps.” In February, Poland’s deputy justice minister, Patryk Jaki, told reporters in Warsaw: “Stop attributing to Poland the role of Holocaust author.”

Polish citizens are said to be responsible for the direct killing at least 1,500 people in pogroms that took place directly after the Holocaust. Thousands more died at the hands of Poles during the Holocaust and because of Poles who betrayed them to the Germans, according to Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland. Three million non-Jewish Poles were murdered by the German occupiers.

Jan Gross, a well-known Poland-born historian from Princeton University, is currently the subject of a criminal investigation in Poland for saying that more Jews died at the hands of Poles during World War II than at the hands of Germans. He is suspected of violating a law against “insulting the Polish nation.”

In absolute numbers, Poland has the highest amount of any nation of Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who have been recognized by Israel for risking their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Poland has 6,620 righteous gentiles, followed by the Netherlands’ 5,516.

Relatively seen, however, Poland would have had nearly 120,000 righteous gentiles if it had the Netherlands’ ratio of saviors per Jews in 1940.

The government-operated Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum opposes even mentioning that the former death camp is in Poland, urging journalists to change the geographical characterization to “German-occupied” territory.

Maciej Świrski, founder of the Polish League Against Defamation – a nongovernmental body devoted to “prevent the vilification of the Polish People,” as it is described on its website — wrote Alexievich an angry letter challenging her assertions.

It is regrettable, he wrote, that some people “propagate a false thesis about ‘terrible Polish anti-Semitism’ for their own career, applause, and then stupidly think that they are brave and progressive.”

No priests in Poland called for the murder of the Jews, he added in the open letter.

“It is simply a lie. What is this based on? Can you name one Polish priest who called for murder, and where?” Swirski asked. “You are repeating unproven lies, and this is not befitting a documentarist of your class.”

Alexievich wrote extensively about the reality of life for people affected by the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

Marking 70th anniversary of Jewish massacre, Polish president slams anti-Semitism


The president of Poland strongly condemned anti-Semitism and all forms of racism and xenophobia in leading the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of a massacre of Jews after World War II.

Andrzej Sebastian Duda spoke Monday in the southeastern town of Kielce, where communist police and a mob killed 42 — nearly all Jews — on July 4, 1946.

“In a free, sovereign and independent Poland, there is no room for any form of prejudice, for racism, for xenophobia, for anti-Semitism,” Duda said, according to remarks carried by the Polish news agency PAP, The Associated Press reported.

Coming so soon after the Holocaust, the killings — spurred by a false rumor that returning Jews had attacked a local boy — sent a wave of fearful Jews out of Poland and left those remaining afraid of living in their homeland. Poland had an estimated 250,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in a pre-World War II Jewish population of 3.5 million.

In recent months, Duda has strongly condemned anti-Semitism and xenophobia several times after sending mixed messages on matters of prejudice since the election last year that brought his coalition to power, AP reported.

A day earlier, the prime minster of Poland in a message to a Kielce commemoration said there is no place for racist violence in her country.

Andrzej Bialek, the vice president of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, which organized the commemoration, read aloud a letter from the prime minister, Beata Szydlo, to the gathering of some 200 people.

“Seventy years ago, shortly after the devastating war and the Holocaust drama, in Kielce again flowed the blood of innocent people,” the letter said.

Szydlo said there was no provocation that can be an used as an excuse for anti-religious and racist violence. She said the tragedy is still being studied by historians.

Anna Azari, the Israeli ambassador to Poland, also spoke at the ceremony, saying “We have to act together against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”

Bogdan Bialek, the Karski Foundation official who organized the ceremony, spoke of a world without violence and hatred.

“We do not gather here in this place against anyone, even against those whom we think in our minds as our opponents, and perhaps – God forbid – as enemies,” Bialek said. “We gather here for us, for all people, for a better future.”

The Jan Karski Educational Foundation, named for the Polish underground fighter and righteous gentile who was among the first to report the dimensions of the Nazi genocide, promotes Catholic-Jewish interchanges and seeks to instill Karski’s example in young people.

Jacob Bresler: Riding out tribulation and making it to liberation


Mid-morning on Sept. 1, 1939, Jacob Bresler was playing at the one-pump gas station near his family’s apartment in Uniejow, Poland, rolling the metal rim of an automobile wheel with a wire stick, when a bomb suddenly exploded at the town hall, diagonally across the street. As Jacob took cover under the gas station canopy, he saw several German Stuka dive bombers streak past, dropping bombs on the city, and the Polish peasants fleeing eastward with their wagons and livestock. 

Ten minutes later, when the bombing subsided, the 11-year-old ran home along a street strewn with dead bodies and mangled animals. Inside the family’s apartment, now filled with shattered glass, Jacob’s father gathered the family together. “We are not safe here,” he said. “We have to leave the city.”

Jacob was born in Uniejow on July 3, 1928, the fifth of six children — four sisters and an older brother — born to Chaim and Rachel Bresler. The Modern Orthodox and musically gifted family lived in a one-room apartment, so in 1937, Chaim rented a second room nearby, where Jacob and three of his siblings lived. 

Chaim ran a general store and supplied textbooks to the town’s schoolchildren. He also served as a representative of the kehillah, tending to the welfare of Uniejow’s 500 Jewish families. 

Jacob attended public school as well as cheder. At age 9, he also began working evenings as an apprentice for his uncle, making leather shoe uppers and riding boots for the wealthy.

While anti-Semitism was always present, the situation worsened after 1933, as his father’s store began losing customers and the book franchise was confiscated. So, on Sept. 2, 1939, the day after the Stukas bombed Uniejow, the family fled by foot, unsure where to go. Still, Jacob said, “We thought we would soon be back.” 

The family walked all night, finally finding space in an overcrowded barn. A few days later, at Chaim’s suggestion, Jacob and Rachel returned alone to Uniejow to check on the situation, discovering that the store and their primary apartment had been stripped bare. 

On their second night back, Polish forces attacked the Germans. But when Jacob and others went out to greet the temporarily victorious Polish troops, they found the town square littered with hundreds of massacred men — Polish and Jewish hostages the Germans had released and then machine-gunned before departing. Soon after, the Germans recaptured the town.

Jacob and Rachel rejoined the family, but a week later, with Polish troops no longer attacking the occupying German forces in Uniejow, they all returned home, moving everyone into the children’s apartment. And with both his father and brother, Josef, emotionally paralyzed, the burden of supporting the family fell on 11-year-old Jacob. 

Jacob found work in a Polish restaurant, and he supplemented the food he received as payment by collecting cigarette butts discarded by German soldiers and bartering the tobacco.

In January 1940, the Germans asked Chaim to collaborate with them on Jewish affairs, essentially helping to implement their decrees. He refused and soon after was transported to the Poznan labor camp. 

In March 1941, the Jews of Uniejow all were relocated to a ghetto, where Jacob lived in a small room with his family. He was permitted to work for his uncle, making riding boots for the German army. 

Then, in late October 1941, the Jews were resettled in the Jewish Colony, comprising six villages confiscated from the Poles. 

In May 1942, Jacob’s sisters Hinda, 18, and Golda, 16, on the advice of Hinda’s fiancé, reluctantly volunteered to be part of a female transport to a labor camp. Jacob later learned they had been shipped to the Poznan camp but were later gassed at Chelmno. 

When the Jewish Colony was liquidated on July 28, 1942, Jacob and his remaining family were marched to Nowy Swiat, where a selection landed Jacob, then 14, with the women and children. He was looking to escape when a column of men, including Josef, walked by. “I’m going with my brother,” he told his mother, slipping into the line.

Jacob was among a small group selected to clean up the Jewish Colony, going house to house bundling up the inhabitants’ possessions. “It tore our hearts out,” he said. 

Afterward, he was sent to the Lodz ghetto, where he lived with Josef and was assigned to cut wood in a factory. But he was caught stealing and was transferred to another factory, which produced wood shavings used to stuff mattresses for the German army. Jacob continued to steal whatever he could, trading the items for food.

On March 14, 1943, Jacob met a transport arriving from Poznan, on which he hoped to find his father. As the prisoners were marched through the gates, he ran among them. “Are you Chaim Bresler? Are you?” he asked. Finally a man said, “I’m Chaim Bresler; who are you?” Jacob identified himself, falling into his father’s arms. 

After being initially jailed, Chaim lived with Jacob and Josef, who shared their food as Chaim was not allotted a ration card. About two weeks later, Jacob returned from work to find his father gone. “I cannot eat up all your bread. I am going back to the prison,” Chaim’s note read. 

The next day, on March 30, 1943, Jacob went to the prison, speaking to his father through the wire fence, pleading with him to reconsider. But Chaim was adamant. “Do everything in your power to survive. For me, it is too late,” he said, adding that they were being shipped out the next day. Father and son kissed through the fence. Heartbroken, Jacob vowed to survive. 

Jacob’s next job was delivering wood to the ghetto’s elite residents, who rewarded him with food for performing extra chores. He also stole wood. “We were not hungry or cold,” Jacob said. 

After the ghetto was liquidated in August 1944, Jacob and Josef found themselves in the second transport headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, after being processed, Jacob and other male prisoners were marched outside naked and ordered to wait. Twenty-four hours later, they were given uniforms and taken to a barracks where they slept on the floor, too crammed to stretch out. 

After 14 days, Jacob, Josef and others were shipped by cattle car to Kaufering VII, a Dachau subcamp being constructed in the Bavarian forest. They lived in underground earthen huts, spending 12-hour days building latrines and gravel roads. 

Three weeks later, they were transferred to Kaufering IV, where they worked building underground factories for Messerschmitt jet fighters. Jacob was assigned to carry 50-kilogram sacks of cement up a ramp for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. After working one day, he realized the job would kill him and he managed to hide during all his remaining shifts.

Three months later, Josef was transferred to Kaufering I, the first time since 1941 the brothers were separated. Jacob saw Josef only once, admonishing him to keep on living. “If this is life, I don’t want it,” Josef responded. He died shortly before liberation.

In November 1944, Jacob was sent to Kaufering III, then Kaufering XI and the following month to Landshut. At the end of January 1945, he was transferred to Muhldorf, where he was again forced to carry heavy cement bags up a steep ramp and again found hiding places.

Jacob, along with two boys, was then transferred to work at a convent, a 5-kilometer walk each way, working for nuns who ran a home for the mentally disabled. There, for the first time in six years, he was shown compassion.

In mid-April, the Muhldorf prisoners were loaded on a cattle train, which finally, on the morning of April 29, stopped at Tutzing, 25 miles southwest of Munich. Amid rumbling in the distance, someone screamed, “Americans!” The train doors opened, and Jacob, too weak to walk, crawled toward the approaching American troops, kissing the steel tracks of their tanks.  

That evening, the prisoners were transported to the Feldafing displaced persons camp, where, three weeks later, Jacob was hospitalized for two months with typhoid fever. 

In September, Jacob moved to the Landsberg am Lech DP camp. There, he learned that Dora and Sam Samuels, friends of his parents, were searching for him. With their help, he immigrated to New York, arriving on Dec. 25, 1947. “That family became my loving family,” he said. 

In 1950, Jacob, then 22, was drafted and sent to Germany as part of the NATO occupation force. Discharged in 1952, he attended Hunter College, majoring in television and theater. From 1955 to 1960, he lived in Vienna, where he studied music and film and where, on May 24, 1960, he married Edith Antonides. Jacob and Edith moved to New York, but returned 20 months later to Vienna. There, Jacob co-produced an Austrian television show and sang opera. 

In 1968, Jacob and Edith moved to Los Angeles, where Jacob opened three Italian restaurants, which he ran successively until retiring in 1985. Their daughter, Rachel, was born in September 1971. Jacob and Edith now have two grandchildren. 

Since 1985, Jacob has devoted himself to writing books. His autobiography, “You Shall Not Be Called Jacob Anymore,” the title taken from Genesis 32:28-29, was published in 1988 and is available on Amazon. He also returns to Vienna annually and has lectured about the Holocaust in both Austria and Germany. 

Jacob was also featured in the BBC radio documentary “Lost Children of the Holocaust,”  which first aired in May 2015. 

In his 1995 interview with the USC Shoah Foundation, Jacob said, “People are repeating history. They haven’t learned a thing.” Twenty-one years later, he said, he believes nothing has changed. 

Leader of Poland’s largest political party honors victims of synagogue burning


The leader of the largest political party in Poland took part in ceremonies commemorating the burning of a synagogue in Bialystok during the Holocaust.

In his speech at the Great Synagogue of Bialystok, Jaroslaw Kaczynski stressed German responsibility for the Holocaust, the dangers of anti-Semitism, and the need for cooperation with Israel.

“The Holocaust was the fault of the German state and the German people who supported Adolf Hitler,” said Kaczynski during Monday’s ceremony. “German elite were unable to get into any real opposition.”

On June 27, 1941, German troops marched into Bialystok murdering some 2,500 Jews. About one thousand Jews were burned alive in the city’s synagogue.

Kaczynski, who is a leader of the Law and Justice Party, stressed that the representatives of the other nations of Europe, including Poles, also committed crimes during the war, but it would not have been possible without the aggression of Germany. He also stressed that in Europe today there is a new anti-Semitism directed against Israel.

“We have to keep talking about what leads to anti-Semitism in any form, including the present day, hidden under the term anti-Zionism,” he said.

Torah scroll that sat in home closet 15 years donated to Polish museum


A Torah scroll that sat forgotten in a closet of a home in Poland for 15 years was donated to a museum in the country.

Waldemar Sawicki, the owner of a home in the western Polish city of Zielona Gora, gave the scroll to the Museum of Lubusz Region, also in western Poland. His brother originally had found it in a pile of garbage.

“I thought that this was an Old Church Slavonic record brought by our neighbors from the East,” Sawicki told Radio Em in an interview on Wednesday. “I took this document with the thought that someday I will meet someone who will be able to read these letters. I hid it in the closet, along with wallpaper rolls, and it just lay there for almost 15 years.”

 

During a recent renovation of his house, Sawicki remembered the scroll. He contacted the museum, which informed him that the object was a Torah scroll.

It is not known how the Torah scroll made its way to Zielona Gora or why it was in the trash.

Polish government wants to take over, upgrade Treblinka museum


Poland’s government offered to take over from a local authority the responsibility for preserving the grounds of the former Nazi death camp Treblinka, where 870,000 people were murdered.

The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage made the offer in a letter it sent last week to the regional government of Mazovia, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported Sunday.

The takeover could open up new funds for upgrading the small museum in Treblinka, whose grounds in the 1960s were turned into a Polish national monument featuring hundreds of stones inscribed with the names of the countries and places from which the victims had originated. It also has a room-sized museum displaying some objects, mostly work tools, found at the site.

 

Before retreating, the Nazis largely destroyed the facilities of the relatively small camp, which was spread across nearly 57 acres, including the southeastern extermination area with its brick building containing three gas chambers, each measuring 170 square feet.

From the Depths, an organization that deals with Holocaust commemoration in Eastern Europe, welcomed the move, which comes amid a government-led campaign that is widely seen as designed to highlight Polish victimhood during World War II and counter claims that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.

“It is very promising to see that the Polish government, along with the public international campaign against calling the death camps ‘Polish Death camps,’ have also stood to take further responsibility for those sites on current-day Polish soil,” From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels told JTA. He has criticized Polish authorities for perceived neglect of some Holocaust sites.

Poland’s right-wing government is advancing legislation that would criminalize the use of the term “Polish death camps.” In February, Poland’s deputy justice minister, Patryk Jaki, told reporters in Warsaw: “Stop attributing to Poland the role of Holocaust author.”

The government-operated Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum opposes even mentioning that the former death camp is in Poland, urging journalists to change the geographical characterization to “German-occupied” territory.

Treblinka, Daniels said, “has been mismanaged by regional authorities, with little funds going into security or upkeep of the site and visitors were unable to get a true understanding of what happened there.”

Separately, From the Depths this week facilitated a deal with a Polish Jewish group, TSKZ, in which it will house the new offices of the Polish Society of the Righteous Among the Nations, whose members were recognized for risking their lives to help Jews survive the Holocaust. The society’s previous office, on the second floor of a suburban building without an elevator, was inaccessible to some of the elderly members.

Polish adman creates buzz with his pro-Jewish graffiti


Anti-Semitic graffiti is so common in Poland that it hardly makes the news, except maybe when it’s on Holocaust sites or Jewish cemeteries.

But huge philo-Semitic slogans painted in the national colors and confessing a sense of loss over the destruction of Polish Jewry in the Holocaust are somewhat more remarkable. Which is why Polish media is abuzz this week with reports about a graffito reading “I miss you, Jew” that an artist painted on a main street in Lodz.

Rafał Betlejewski, who is not Jewish, coordinated with local Jews and others before painting the attention-grabbing inscription on June 11 on Piotrkowska Street, a main artery. The graffito was part of a series he began in 2005. The founder of an advertising firm, Betlejewski, 48, has painted or helped paint the message dozens of times at sites with a special place in the history of Polish Jewry.

One such site was Brzeska Street, which used to form one of the boundaries of Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. Another, in 2010, was Jedwabne, where local Poles killed hundreds of Jews in 1941. Betlejewski also set up a display there of a burning barn in memory of the Jews who were burned alive by their Christian neighbors. It was this dark episode in Polish history — the epicenter of the acrimonious debate in Poland over Holocaust-era complicity — that got him thinking about Polish-Jewish relations in the first place, he said in interviews about his work.

In April, in the Warsaw neighborhood of Powiśle, unidentified parties blacked out the word “Jew” in Betlejewski’s graffiti, prompting him to call on fans to “counter hatred” by continuing to write the word on the wall every time it gets blacked out. Though he had permission from the owners of that wall, he has in the past had legal problems over his “I miss you, Jew” inscriptions, which municipalities saw as vandalism.

“I want to reclaim the word ‘Jew,’ snatch it from anti-Semites, who are in this country are the only ones using it freely,” the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper quoted Betlejewski as saying in 2010 about his campaign and the Jedwabne action especially. “I aim to build a platform used to express positive emotions towards the people known as the Jews.”

The Lodz operation was less controversial, but the site selected for the artwork is no less symbolic. Forbidden to Jews when it was first built in the early 19th century, Piotrkowska Street was finally opened to some Jews of means in 1825. During the German occupation of Poland, it was renamed Adolf Hitler Street. Jews were rounded up, shot and beaten on its cobblestones during various pogroms.

People dining at the Jaffa Israeli restaurant in Lodz, Poland, June 11, 2016. Photo by Courtesy of Rafal Betlejewski

The city in central Poland, about 80 miles from Warsaw, was historically home to one of the country’s most vibrant Jewish communities and one of the largest ghettos during the Holocaust. But Jewish life all but disappeared from Lodz in 1944.

Nearly all of the ghetto’s 164,000 residents were murdered in the Holocaust, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, along with 90 percent of Poland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 3 million.

Despite this tragic legacy, Betlejewski said he enjoyed working there, compared to past experiences in Warsaw.

“Lodz was a very nice change,” Betlejewski wrote on his blog. “Maybe it’s because we painted in a semi-private space, maybe because the wall was ready, and I went there at the invitation of the people who wanted this inscription. Everyone ate a delicious hummus served by the Israeli Jaffa restaurant.”

Jonny Daniels, the founder of From the Depths, a nonprofit that works on commemorating the Holocaust and building bridges between world Jewry and Poland, said that, despite occasional expressions of hostility to Jews there, “The number of those with a positive attitude toward Jews far outweighs those with negative attitude.” Thousands of non-Jewish Polish volunteers engage with From the Depths, he told JTA, while the Polish government maintains a keen interest in “issues connected to the Jewish past.” In March, Polish President Andrzej Duda opened a museum for the Righteous among the Nations, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, some of the Polish government’s interest in Jewish issues — like the criminal investigation into a Princeton University professor who has explored Polish culpability during the Holocaust — has not gone down very well internationally. Jan Gross, a Polish Jew who emigrated to the United States in 1969, is suspected of violating Poland’s laws against insulting the nation by saying during an interview recently that Poles killed more Jews during World War II than they killed Germans.

Poland also shows little interest in offering restitution for property that belonged to Jews before the genocide. The “current government, leading a tough nationalist line, is not likely to agree to this painful process,” wrote Dina Porat, head of the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry in Tel Aviv, in an Op-Ed in Haaretz earlier this week.

But back in Lodz, Betlejewski was staying positive, noting that to him, it was “important that there were young Polish Jews there. Young Lodz Jews. People who are trying to rebuild the Jewish of community.”

Verdict due in German trial of 94-year-old ex-Auschwitz guard


A German court is expected to announce on Friday its verdict in the trial of a 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard accused of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.

In what could be one of Germany's last Holocaust trials, the prosecution has asked the court in the western German town of Detmold to sentence Reinhold Hanning to six years in prison for his role in facilitating the slaughter at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The defense had called for the acquittal of the former SS officer, saying Hanning had personally never killed, beaten or abused anyone in his capacity as a guard at the camp.

Judge Anke Grudda is due to read out the verdict on Friday, the 20th day of proceedings in the four-month trial, with each day limited to just two hours due to Hanning's old age.

The trial included testimony from at least 10 Holocaust survivors, some of them about Hanning's age, who detailed their horrific experiences, recalling piles of bodies and the smell of burned flesh in the death camp.

Hanning remained silent and emotionless throughout much of the trial, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

He finally spoke up the end of April, apologizing to the victims and saying that he regretted being part of a “criminal organization” that had killed so many and caused so much suffering. “I'm ashamed that I knowingly let injustice happen and did nothing to oppose it,” he read from a paper.

Hanning is not charged with direct involvement in any killings. But the prosecutor's office in Dortmund and dozens of joint plaintiffs from Germany, Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain and the United States accused him of helping Auschwitz to function.

A precedent for such charges was set in 2011, when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted. Last year, Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at the death camp.

Germany is holding what are likely to be its last trials linked to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed more than six million people, mostly Jews.

In addition to Hanning, one other man and one woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz. A third man who was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at Auschwitz died at the age of 93 in April, days before his trial was due to start.

In Krakow, night of the synagogues bolsters Jewish pride


For the sixth year in a row, the seven synagogues in Krakow’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz, opened their doors for 7@Nite – or the Night of the Synagogues, a one-night mini-festival aimed at bolstering Jewish pride and promoting Jewish awareness among the public.

Each synagogue – from the Gothic Old Synagogue, now a Jewish historical museum, to the ornate 19th century Tempel Synagogue, used for both services and cultural events – hosted an exhibit, concert, film or other event illustrating contemporary Jewish culture in Poland and around the world.

“The most important message is that this is an open event, carried out by Jews — for everybody,” said Karina Sokolowska, the Poland director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Organized by the JDC, the Krakow Jewish Community Center and the Krakow Jewish Religious Community, 7@Nite first took place in 2011.

Since then it has become an annual event that begins with an open-air Havdalah ceremony ending Shabbat conducted from the roof of the JCC.

From the conclusion of Havdalah – at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday — until 2:30 a.m. Sunday, thousands of people troop off to visit the synagogues, all of which are located within a few blocks of each other.

Organizers estimated that this year’s Havdalah, on Saturday, drew a record 1,400 people who crowded into the JCC courtyard.

“Go and enjoy the synagogues,” JCC Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein told them. “The Jewish heritage of Krakow does not just belong to the Jews but to all of us. As Cracovians, be proud.”

The event was advertised with posters throughout the city, and a constant flow of people moved in and out of the synagogues throughout the opening hours. The overwhelming majority were young, non-Jewish Cracovians.

With only about 20,000 Jews, Poland has experienced a public fascination with Poland’s Jewish heritage, including dozens of Jewish museums and culture festivals often run by non-Jews.

Some said they had made it a point to come to Kazimierz to take part.

“It’s the only day of the year that you can see all the synagogues, and I came last year and two years ago, too,” said Natalia Giemza, 23, who is not Jewish but said she had taken university courses on Jewish history.

Other visitors made a quick visit to a synagogue or two part of a Saturday night out. In recent years, the Kazimierz district has become the city’s liveliest center of youth-oriented nightlife, and pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants were crowded on a warm night.

“We were just out drinking and thought, why not?” said Mateus, 22, who joined a group of friends visiting the baroque Izaak Synagogue after 1 a.m.

Built in the 17th century, the Izaak has a towering vaulted ceiling and frescoed decoration and is used for regular services. For 7@Nite it hosted an exhibit on Ethiopian Jews with a hummus and pita snack bar in its courtyard.

“I’ve been in other synagogues, but never the Izaak,” Mateus said. One of the reasons he had wanted to visit, he said, was “to gain knowledge about our roots.”

“I’m not Jewish or Catholic, but I think there is some Jewish blood in my ancestry,” he said. Mateus said he did not, however, plan to join the JCC or take any other steps toward affiliation.

His friend Jakub said he was Catholic, but he and his parents “have always been interested in Jewish things.”

The 7@Nite event was staffed by volunteers who managed crowds, handed out kippot to visiting men and kept head counts of visitors. Most were not Jewish and, according to the JDC’s Sololowska, some had come from as far as the northwestern city of Szczeczin, hundreds of miles away, to take part.

“I’m Catholic and I started volunteering at the JCC two years ago,” said graduate student Anna Wilkosz, who said that by midnight well over 1,000 people had visited the Kupa synagogue. “I felt it was urgent to be involved.”

Not everyone who turned out for the event, however, demonstrated a positive interest in Jewish and Judaism.

Outside the Tempel Synagogue, where young Poles danced wildly to freestyling by the American Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz, a bald man in his 30s said he was “mad at the Jews.”

“I’m mad at the Jews because Jews all say that the Poles killed them in World War II, but I know history — Poles saved them,” declared the man, who said he was a tour guide.

His remarks appeared to reflect a campaign in recent months by Poland’s new hard-right government to absolve Poles of charges of complicity in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Much of that campaign centers on the Polish-American historian Jan Gross, the author of several books since 2000 that examine episodes during and after the Holocaust, including the murder of Jews in the village of Jedwabne, in which Poles killed their Jewish neighbors or targeted Jews with violence.

In October, soon after coming to power, the government opened a libel investigation against Gross based on an article he wrote asserting that “Poles killed more Jews during the [Second World] war than they did Germans.” Prosecutors questioned Gross for five hours in April.

The investigation was based on an article in the Criminal Code that punishes those who “insult” Poland.

Yet most visitors seemed to take part in the Night of the Synagogues in a spirit of good will. At midnight, Giemza and a friend entered the 17th-century Kupa Synagogue, which is decorated with colorful frescoes. It hosted a special photo and interview exhibit about contemporary Polish Jewish identity.

They carried hamsas, the hand-shaped Middle Eastern good luck charm, that they had made in an art workshop taking place at another of the synagogues.

“I hope to get to all the synagogues tonight,” Giemza said. “It’s really great for me.”

Teen arrested for allegedly smashing Holocaust memorial in Poland


A teenager in Poland was arrested for allegedly smashing a Holocaust monument and scrawling anti-Semitic slogans and a neo-Nazi symbol on it.

The 16-year-old had escaped from a state juvenile care center, the PAP news agency reported Tuesday quoting a police spokeswoman. The teenager did not say why he smashed the Star of David on the monument in Rajgrod in the northeast of the country, the spokeswoman said.

Police said the boy last week spray-painted offensive slogans and Odin’s cross, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist symbol, on the monument. The slogans were: “Send you the gas” and “F— the whores,” according to police.

The monument in Rajgord, 130 miles from Warsaw, was previously vandalized in 2015, some six months after its unveiling.

“We welcome the news that the alleged perpetrator has been arrested,” said Gideon Taylor, chair of operations of The World Jewish Restitution Organization.

Taylor’s organization and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland in 2002 set up the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, or FODZ, which erected the monument with help from the local Jewish community near a Jewish cemetery that was destroyed in World War II.

“We look forward to working closely with the authorities to try to prevent such attacks on monuments in Poland in the future,” Taylor said.

Amid complicity debate, Polish clergy to attend 70th anniversary of post-Holocaust pogrom


Polish clergy and researchers will hold a seminar in Kielce about a historically significant pogrom in which locals killed Holocaust survivors in that city 70 years ago.

Occurring amid an acrimonious debate in Poland on local complicity in the Holocaust and the attention it merits, the conference planned for July in Kielce, 110 miles south of Warsaw, aims to promote “the spiritual concept of forgiveness” in relation to the 1946 murder of 42 Jews, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA on Wednesday.

Titled “Memory, Dialogue, Reconciliation,” the seminar is being organized on the pogrom’s anniversary by Bogdan Bialek, a writer and political activist who is also president of the Jan Karski Society — an anti-racism group named after an officer of the Polish underground who risked his life to provide the Allies with evidence of the Nazi genocide.

Taking place shortly after the genocide in Poland, the pogrom spurred a wave of emigration by survivors of the Holocaust who felt unsafe even after it ended, Schudrich said. Far from an isolated incident, it is the most famous pogrom in a series of attacks that left 1,500 to 2,000 Jews dead after the Holocaust had ended.

Kielce, Schudrich added, “remains a sensitive and painful subject in Poland.”

In recent months, Poland’s center-right government has faced international criticism for statements and actions by officials that are seen as unfavorable to open discussions about the complicity of some Poles in the killing of Jews. At the same time, officials have pushed through commemorations of Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust in a manner deemed by some critics as excessive.

Jan Gross, a Polish-American professor from Princeton University, was recently questioned by prosecutors on suspicion of violating Poland’s law against “insulting the Polish nation” because he said that more Jews than Germans died at the hands of Poles during World War II. The probe followed public petitions demanding action against Gross.

In February, the office of the president of Poland ordered an examination of the possibility of withdrawing a state honor given to Gross, who wrote a landmark book on another pogrom by Poles against Jews in Jedwabne in 1941.

Among the participants expected at the Kielce seminar is former Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, a former state secretary who also served as the Polish consul general in New York.

Schudrich said he hoped the event would “encourage those who need to seek forgiveness for their actions to do so” but added that, for him, “the event in Kielce is not about identifying the guilty but grieving together for the dead.”

The event is necessary to bridge gaps in how Jews and non-Jews relate to the Kielce pogrom, Schudrich said.

“The Jewish view is of indignation over the murder of Holocaust victims. But the discussion in Polish society is more about who actually perpetrated the killings: communists, anti-communists, etc.,” he added. “I can understand that, but now is a time to look at the victims.”

Reporter who revealed fake Polish rabbi taking heat from Jewish community leader


The Polish reporter who revealed the imposter rabbi serving in Poznan said the Jewish community’s leader has insisted he stop writing about the case.

In a report published Monday, Glos Wielkopolski said Alicja Kobus, head of the Poznan Jewish community and vice president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, “threatened” the newspaper over the report several days earlier by Krzysztof Kazmierczak exposing Jacoob Ben Nistell, who claimed to be a rabbi from Haifa, Israel, but in fact was a cook from the Polish city of Ciechanow named Jacek Niszczota.

Kobus reportedly has tried in recent days to intimidate Kazmierczak, demanding that he stop writing about Nistell.

According to the Glos Wielkopolski report Nistell, who served the community for several years, is not Jewish, does not know Hebrew and is not familiar with Jewish customs.

In Poznan, Nistell ran a kosher kitchen for tourists from Israel and guests of the Jewish community, according to Glos Wielkopolski.

“He served food for our guests, but so what. Everyone has such a right,” Kobus, also vice president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told the newspaper. “And he did everything from cooking to taking out the garbage.”

The restaurant’s menu, posted on Facebook, included falafel, stuffed grape leaves, cholent and kreplach.

Nistell reportedly has disappeared from the community and deleted his Facebook page.

Kazmierczak said he has not met with any other negative reactions from Jews.

“True Jews and people interested in Judaism say it is very good that I revealed the sham,” he told JTA.

Kazmierczak said he believes Kobus knew for a long time that Nistell did not come from Haifa, especially since the imposter rabbi read Hebrew prayers in Polish transliteration.

Meanwhile, leaders of Polish Jewry have criticized the Poznan community’s lack of knowledge about the rabbi.

“It is said that the wild animals come where there is an empty space,” Shalom Ber Stambler, chief Chabad rabbi in Poland, told Glos Wielkopolski. “That’s what happened in Poznan; it shows that in a place where there is no real Jewry, bad things happen.”

Stambler called the revelation “a cosmic embarrassment to the Polish Rabbinate.”

“I knew from the start that this guy was in disguise. But the rabbinate for so long did not attempt to find out who is the man claiming to be a rabbi and taking part in community celebrations,” he said.

Warsaw Jewish leader Przemyslaw Szpilman told JTA: “The Polish Rabbinate should read Glos Wielkopolski; many of them will learn something new.”

Szpilman said he was speaking publicly on the issue as an individual member of the Polish Jewish community and not on behalf of either the board of the Jewish community in Warsaw on which he serves or as the director of the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, and Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich declined to comment to JTA on the matter.

Rabbi in Poland not actually a rabbi, journalist discovers


A rabbi in Poland embraced as a Jewish community’s spiritual leader actually is not a rabbi, a Polish journalist uncovered.

Jacoob Ben Nistell, aka Yaakav — he used different forms of the name — admitted two weeks ago during an interview that he is not a rabbi. He has served for several years in Poznan, in west-central Poland.

Krzysztof Kazmierczak, a reporter for Glos Wielkopolski, or The Voice of Greater Poland, discovered that the alleged rabbi in fact is Jacek Niszczota and comes from Ciechanow, a town in north-central Poland. Niszczota had claimed he was from Haifa; it was unclear if he ever lived in or even visited Israel.

The deception was not discovered by the board of the Poznan branch of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.

“I’m surprised. I never checked his identity document,” Alicja Kobus, head of the Poznan Jewish community and vice-president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told Glos Wielkopolski. “He said he comes from Haifa, his mother still lives there, and he has an Israeli passport and a son in the army. I believed that he is who he says he is because of how he looked and that he was able to pray in Hebrew and knew Jewish customs.”

As the rabbi, Niszczota led activities about Judaism for children and young people. He also participated in ecumenical prayer services with Polish bishops, and held interfaith meetings with priests and imams on behalf of the Ponzan Jewish community.

Niszczota refused to comment to reporters about the hoax.

Tel Aviv high school stopping students’ concentration camp visits over ‘ultranationalist’ influence


A Tel Aviv high school principal will no longer send pupils on an annual educational trip to former concentration camps in Poland because of its perceived “ultranationalist” influence on the students.

Zeev Dagani, principal of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, also cited high costs and declining participation in explaining his decision, Haaretz reported Sunday.

“Some of the children who go on the trip return from it more chauvinistic, and I definitely think that that’s not how the trip should be,” Dagani told Haaretz. “If there is a humane and universalist atmosphere in society or in the country, the trip can strengthen these messages, but when the atmosphere in the nation today is delegitimization of the other and when the atmosphere in society is ultranationaist, then this trip serves those trends.

Dagani also said the trip to Poland is too “emotionally fraught” for teenage students. In addition, he explained that only about half of the school’s students now participate in the trip, making it a “trip for the rich” who can afford it.

Since the 1980s, high schools throughout Israel have sent students on a weeklong tour of former Nazi concentration camps and Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe. The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, a historic high school founded before the city of Tel Aviv in 1905, will instead institute a Holocaust education program. Dagani said about 30 percent of the school’s history program will focus on the Holocaust and students will meet with Holocaust survivors.

“We will all go together on a five-day trip throughout the country and learn about Israeli phenomena, some of which resulted from the Holocaust,” he said.

According to Haaretz, only a few other Israeli high schools have decided to cancel the trips in favor of other programs in recent years.

Hillel International to launch in Poland


Hillel International will launch operations in Poland, the organization serving Jewish college students announced.

The opening of Hillel Warsaw is scheduled for April 18, on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A delegation of Hillel International leaders and Jewish dignitaries from around the world will gather in Poland for the event, where a reception will be held for Polish Jewish students.

“At Hillel International, our mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students everywhere so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, said in a statement. “Jewish life in Poland has seen a remarkable revitalization in recent years, but that progress can only be sustained if we ensure that young Polish Jews have the community and the resources necessary to thrive.”

Hillel Warsaw is funded in part by grants from the UJA-Federation of New York, Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation.

Hillel’s Schusterman International Center recently hired Magda Dorosz as its first Hillel Warsaw executive director. Dorosz, who was born in Wroclaw, Poland, will spend her first several months at Hillel Warsaw meeting with young Jews and exploring the types of programs and services that can best meet their needs and those of Poland’s Jewish community. She also will work to establish formal relationships with the Polish government and several of the largest universities in the Warsaw area.

“Young Jews in Poland today carry with them both the tragedies our parents and grandparents endured and the flourishing community our generation has witnessed,” Dorosz said in the Hillel statement. “We have particular needs as a community and a unique story to share with the rest of the Jewish world. The recognition and resources that Hillel International is committing to young Jews in Poland is a fantastic benchmark for our community’s growth.”

There are Hillels in 14 other nations around the world.

93-year-old Auschwitz guard dies a week before trial


A former SS guard died a week before he was scheduled to go on trial for his alleged role in the murder of more than 1,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Ernest Tremmel’s death was announced Thursday, The Jerusalem Post reported. Tremmel, 93, was scheduled to go on trial in Hanau, Germany, on April 13. He was a member of the Auschwitz SS guard team from November 1942 to June 1943.

According to EFE Agency, Tremmel is believed to have died two days ago of natural causes.

Two other men and one woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz.

Two others — former paramedic Hubert Zafke, 95, and former guard Reinhold Hanning, 94 — are currently on trial.

A 92-year-old woman who worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz is also expected to go on trial soon, but no date has been announced yet. She is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 260,000 people.

Imre Kertesz, Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor, dies aged 86


Hungarian novelist and Auschwitz survivor Imre Kertesz, winner of the 2002 Nobel Literature Prize, died on Thursday at the age of 86 after a long illness, the state news agency MTI reported, citing his publisher.

Kertesz became a Nobel laureate for works the judges said portrayed the Nazi death camps as “the ultimate truth” about how low human beings could fall.

As a Jew persecuted by the Nazis, and then a writer living under repressive Hungarian Communist rule, Kertesz went through some of the most acute suffering of the 20th century and wrote about it in both direct and delicate prose.

He won the $1 million Nobel prize for “writing that upholds the experience of the individual in the face of a barbaric and arbitrary history,” the Swedish Nobel Academy said when it awarded literature's highest honor.

In his work, Kertesz returns repeatedly to the experience of Auschwitz, the camp in German-occupied Poland where more than one million Jews and other victims of Hitler's Third Reich died.

“He is one of the few people who manages to describe that in a way which is immediately accessible to us, (those) who have not shared that experience,” Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the academy, said in 2002.

Kertesz's defining first novel, “Fateless” – a first-person story of a boy's survival in a concentration camp – was written between 1960 and 1973, and rejected for publication at first by Hungary's Communist regime.

It was finally released in 1975 but initially largely ignored the public. Kertesz wrote about that in “Fiasco” (1988), seen as the second volume of a trilogy closed by “Kaddish for a Child not Born” (1990).

Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for the dead, and in that novel, Kaddish is said by the protagonist for the child he refuses to beget in a world that allowed Auschwitz to exist.

Born in Budapest in 1929, Kertesz was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, and on to the Buchenwald concentration camp in eastern Germany whose prisoners were liberated by U.S. forces in 1945. He returned to Hungary and worked as a journalist, but lost his job in 1951 when his paper adopted the Communist Party line.

Kertesz was the first Hungarian to win the Nobel literature prize, though Hungarians had already won Nobel science awards.

He spent the better part of the decade after winning the award in Berlin, where he produced his last works, and later returned to Budapest. He suffered from Parkinson's disease, and rarely left his Budapest home.

Polish institute stops investigation into WWII murder of 70 Jews


The Institute of National Remembrance in Bialystok has discontinued the investigation into the 1941 murders of at least 70 Jewish citizens in a Polish town.

Prosecutors have not identified and additional perpetrators besides the two Polish men already sentenced for the killings in Wasosz, in northeastern Poland, shortly after World War II.

According to the institute, “not less than 70 persons of Jewish nationality” were murdered, according to the Polish Press Agency. They “had been shot or killed with knives, axes, pins, or other similar tools,” the institute said. The guns of local residents had been confiscated.

Prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew intended to carry out the exhumation of a mass grave in Wasosz to determine the exact number of victims. The exhumation would have allowed the transfer of the victims to a cemetery, where they would be buried in registered graves.

Polish Jews are split over the  plan to exhume massacre victims.

Last August, while on vacation, Ignatiew was removed from the investigation.

The Wasosz case from July 1941 was the last investigation into the murders committed against Jews led by the investigation division of the Institute of National Remembrance in Bialystok. Earlier cases involved events in Jedwabne, Radzilow, Szczuczyn and Bzury.