September 21, 2018

Yad Vashem Slams Joint Israel-Poland Statement on Revised Holocaust Law

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Poland’s heavily criticized law criminalizing speech about Poland’s role in the Holocaust was revised on June 27 to rescind jail time, prompting a joint declaration of victory from Israel and Poland. However, Yad Vashem slammed the joint declaration as revisionist history.

The joint statement, issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, stated “that the term ‘Polish concentration/death camps’ is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germans for establishing those camps.”

Yad Vashem agreed that it was inaccurate to use such a term, but they were irked with the joint statement’s claim Poland’s Government-in-Exile and various underground Poles attempted to help the Jews.

“The existing documentation and decades of historical research yield a totally different picture: the Polish Government-in-Exile, based in London, as well as the Delegatura (the representative organ of this Government in occupied Poland) did not act resolutely on behalf of Poland’s Jewish citizens at any point during the war,” Yad Vashem said in a statement on their website. “Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them.”

The statement added that Polish aid to the Jews was “relatively rare,” whereas it was quite common for there to be attacks against Jews in Poland. Those that did try to help Jews were just as scared their fellow Poles as they were of the Nazis.

The statement concluded that it wasn’t enough to only repeal the criminal statute.

“The repeal, however, reverses the explicit exception that was made for academic research and artistic endeavor in the wording of the amendment,” the statement read. “Other sections that remain unchanged make it actionable under civil law to impugn the good name of the Polish State and the Polish Nation.”

Yad Vashem concluded, “Our stance in principle is that any attempt to limit academic and public discourse on historical issues to a single unchangeable national narrative by means of legislation and punishment is inappropriate and constitutes a material infringement of research.”

Poland Nixes Prison Sentence in Holocaust Law

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Poland’s controversial Holocaust law has been amended to nix jail time for those who claim that Poland deserves some blame for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Originally the law, which into effect in February, threatened to impose a three-year prison sentence on violators. After Polish President Andrezj Duda signed an amendment into law on June 27, the offense is now civil instead of criminal.

“We believe that there is a common responsibility to conduct free research, to promote understanding and to preserve the memory of the history of the Holocaust,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a joint statement. “We have always agreed that the term ‘Polish concentration/death camps’ is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germans for establishing those camps.”

However, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper argued that the law should have been repealed altogether.

“The Wiesenthal Center urges the Polish government to rescind a law that never should have been introduced in the first place,” Cooper said in a statement. “It only succeeded in creating a global outcry against a heavy-handed attempt to rewrite the history of the Nazi Shoah and the well-documented virulent anti-Semitism that existed in Poland before during and after WWII.”

In Warsaw, A Survey of the ‘Polish Law’s’ Damage

“Boker Tov” breakfast at the JCC.

A Polish man and an Israeli-American woman walk into a bar in Warsaw.

That’s not the start of a joke that plays off silly stereotypes — of either Polish “stupidity” or of the many we could muster about Jews.

In fact, it’s not a joke at all. I really walked into a Warsaw bar recently and met a Polish man. Over draft beer, we quickly got into a discussion of Polish and Jewish stereotypes, especially those that loudly came to the fore in the wake of what has been dubbed the “Polish law.”

I had taken the train to Warsaw from Berlin for a long weekend to survey attitudes and moods among Polish Jews two months after the “Polish law” made it a crime to ascribe Polish responsibility for the Holocaust, shattering Jewish-Israel-Poland relations. Now, in a bar called Beirut, I had the chance for a face-to-face — rather than a social media — conversation, this one over a much-needed social lubricant.

I’m technically half-Polish, I told him. My paternal grandparents hail from Lodz. I visited the Lodz cemetery last year, and I wondered if I could see where they lived. He offered that I might be able to claim their property, as an heir.

“I never even thought about that,” I said.

But when it came to the now infamous “Polish law,” he expressed concern that communal Jewish consternation stemmed from a desire to collect reparations from Poland, unjustly, because Poles also were victims of Germany. He also wondered if Jews could truly be considered Poles.

“Never has the image of Poland in the world been so negative than it has been in the last two months.” — Rabbi Michael Schudrich

But mixed with comments that would likely trigger a tit-for-tat among the trolls, came sympathetic, conciliatory comments about Israel: admiration for its survival, pride in the “Mossad” T-shirt he owned; and encouragement for me to claim my Polish inheritance — individually. His grandmother had fond memories of Jews, who should try today to empathize with Poland, especially since Poland is a friend of Israel given its U.N. voting records.

“We should talk,” he concluded.

But since the controversy, hardly anyone talked. They shouted, smeared and traded plenty of stereotypes. Jewish organizations and Israeli leaders accused Poland of whitewashing history, eager to remind Poles of cases of complicity in Jewish genocide. The Ruderman Family Foundation was shamed into removing a provocative video uttering “Polish Holocaust” and calling on an American boycott of Poland. Then came the typical tropes: “Jews control the media”; “Jews control finance.” If the “Act on the Institute of National Remembrance,” as it is officially named, hadn’t opened so many wounds and demons, it could have been a joke … about Polish stupidity.

“Currently the reaction of this law has achieved the exact opposite of the goal. Never has the image of Poland in the world been so negative than it has been in the last two months,” said Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland who hails from New York.

We met during pre-Passover bustle at his office on the campus of the Nozyk Synagogue. The grand synagogue survived Germany’s flattening of Warsaw because it had been converted into a Nazi barn.

He opposes the law, especially on technical grounds (“Is the truth now to be decided by local judges?”), but he understands its intention to defend Poland’s good name. “It’s important for countries to face evil things they did in the past, but we have to understand it’s not a comfortable subject for the Poles.”

The death camps were indeed not “Polish” and Poland’s government operated in exile in London.

“If we expect and demand the Poles not to say anti-Semitic things,” Schudrich said, “then it also means we’re demanding of ourselves not to say lies about the Poles.”

But shouting on both sides, with the help of media sensationalism, has exacerbated the rift.

“There are two aspects to the law,” Schudrich said. “One aspect is the law itself and the other aspect is the acrimonious yelling at each other that has taken place in reaction to the law. The two events took place so close to each other that it’s hard to differentiate what the community here is reacting to.”

Since late January, anti-Semitic slurs that once were considered taboo have found full expression, mostly in social media, by average Poles and — most worrisome — by members of the political brass, at a time when the Polish-Jewish community, an estimated 20,000, felt like it was coming into its own.

In an energetic Warsaw, Holocaust memorials, including markers for the former ghetto wall, are visible on almost every other city block. Among the tasty, not to mention cheap, eateries brimming with tourists, you’ll find “Tel Aviv,” “Florentin,” “Shuk,” and “Berek” — all owned by Polish locals, testifying to the coolness of modern Israel here. The Polish law was far from the public’s mind. The talk of the town and the subject of mass protest rallies was a strict anti-abortion bill — another whim, some say — of the ruling Catholic right-wing coalition.

Klaudia Klimek works as a parliamentary assistant for the opposition party and blogs about Polish-Jewish life. We met at a café near the Polish parliament; outside was yet another protest, this one against reductions in pensions for security personnel of the communist era.

Klimek’s story is typical. She discovered her Jewish roots after the fall of communism, when Jewish parents came out of psychological and spiritual Jewish hiding. Jewish life in Poland tends to be liberal: It must be inclusive to Jews of patrilineal dissent and of Christian or secular upbringing.

“The opposition, which is in the minority, cannot vote it over,” Klimek said of the “Polish law.” “That’s why all these stupid bills are passed.”

The law now sits in a constitutional tribunal because the constitutionality of its wording is in doubt. Klimek estimates that only about a third of the population supports it. Poland is experiencing a national resurgence, decades after the Nazi and then Soviet occupations decimated its sovereignty.

“It wasn’t about the Jews or Israel,” Klimek said. “They’re playing more with one card: national patriotism. Kind of like (President Donald) Trump. ‘America first.’ ”

Although it’s technically illegal to say “Polish death camp,” she feels completely free to criticize the government.

“I also notice that Israel and the Israeli government, because they may have elections soon, are using this card to get support in Israel. Our government in Poland is very similar to the government in Israel.”

But the political posturing has trickled down to the people. A male Jewish friend of hers in Krakow suddenly faced anti-Semitic remarks from a friend who didn’t know he was Jewish, telling him that Jews belong in Israel, not Poland.

In Israel, a crew of Polish flight attendants was forbidden to deplane for fear of harassment, much to the disappointment of one attendant who loves duty-free halvah.

Polish Jewish organizations have raised the alarm, saying in a joint statement: “We believe this law to be poorly constructed and detrimental to open discussion of history. If Poland’s government believes that even sporadic mentions of ‘Polish Death Camps’ must be criminalized, certainly the rising intolerance and anti-Semitic hatred in our country should be subject to similarly serious measures.”

Jonny Daniels, founder of From the Depths, an organization dedicated to preserving Jewish heritage in Europe, said there’s no cause for panic. He fearlessly walks the streets of Poland wearing a kippah.

You’ll find words online, but no “sticks and stones” or knives and guns that make Jewish life in other European countries far more precarious. Poland has not accepted Muslim refugees and its Muslim community is nil.

“This has been a factor in securing the identity of minorities and especially the Jewish community, which tends to be first victims of Islamic immigrants,” Daniels said. “It’s not the politically correct thing to say, but it has added to the security of Jews in Poland.”

Next I met with Poles not over beer, but shakshuka. Every Sunday, the Warsaw Jewish Community Center, a project of the Joint Distribution Committee, holds a “Boker Tov” Israeli brunch in its stylish lobby.

Here, the sight of many families and hipsters alike makes Stefan Tompson, a Polish patriot and activist, happy, despite having endured what he calls abuse on social media after his viral video explaining the intention behind the law and reaching out to Jews in friendship.

Tompson was joined by local Israel supporters Jan Wójcik and Grzegorz Lindenberg, co-founders of the European Issues Institute, a think tank on international security. They all agree the law’s construction and execution was stupid, especially in the name of free speech, but they understood its spirit.

“For me it’s very sad, because in the last few years, Israel and Poland had better relations,” Wójcik said. “After several years, Poles were really getting closer to Israel, and now everything broke out.”

Lindenberg, a sociologist and journalist of Jewish descent, admitted to deep-seated anti-Semitic attitudes, believing that some 50 percent of Poles buy into stereotypes of Jews dominating the world, especially finance.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

Jews, unlike Israelis, Lindenberg said, “are like historical, mystical figures in Poland.” In the wake of the law, however, the distinction between Israelis and Jews has been blurred.

As for the theory about Jews not being Poles, he wondered if Catholic-Polish villagers would consider them Poles, too. Wójcik is a Buddhist. Tompson’s mother is British-born.

“The idea of Jews reclaiming their property resonates so loudly in Poland because a lot of people are afraid that some Jewish owner is going to knock on their door and say this was an apartment that belonged to my family in the 1930s,” Lindenberg said.

Klimek, who joined us for brunch, said this fear is not unjustified or even anti-Semitic. There have been several cases of dishonest or exploitative attempts at property reclamation.

As for the fallout from the law, damage has been done but it’s nonthreatening.

“There’s a grudge but I don’t think it will translate into physical violence,” Tompson said. “The rebirth of Polish nationalism is real, but there’s not a neo-Nazi party. … It wouldn’t translate into physical acts of violence and repercussions against Jews on a big scale.”

Rather than boycott travel to Poland, they encourage the opposite. “If you want to change this, we need more common, cultural, touristic exchange,” Wójcik said. “If a lot of Poles, for instance, go to Israel and like it. I would also like Jews to come to Poland for sightseeing” — and for more than just visits to German death camps in Poland.

“Jews using Poland as a sort of historical playground, in a sense where they don’t interact with locals, has irritated some,” Tompson said.

Schudrich said the upcoming March of the Living and anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising would be tests for the resilience of the relationship. He was encouraged, given that 160 nongovernmental organizations signed a petition condemning the law and its anti-Semitic residue, and the Catholic Church came out against rising anti-Semitism.

He appealed to Jews worldwide. “Now’s not the time to leave us,” Schudrich said.


Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. www.oritarfa.net

The Challenge of Legacy

Photo from Wikipedia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a transcript of Edwin Black’s April 11, 2018 keynote address in the Michigan Capitol Rotunda for that state’s official Holocaust Commemoration.

Today, I come not just to mourn nor to scorn but rather to warn our world, that is, the world of today whose memories are still whistling and bristling with the torments and tribulations of a generation now passing before our eyes. But also, for the world of tomorrow — and the day after — pulsed by a generation whose torments and tribulations may yet be in store. The outrages are audible just over the horizon. But in many cases the horizon is speeding toward us like an unstoppable tsunami preparing to crash.

Many of us dwell in the dark past hoping to immunize our future from the maniacal and ideological fires that immolated six million Jews and so many others— and left a world’s hands and souls smoke-singed in the process. The Holocaust was unique among history’s great cruelties for it was a 12-year international persecution and murder machine perpetrated in the glare of broad daylight as well as the dim of night… emboldened by its own German Ministry of Propaganda advertising it and amid incessant media coverage that bled across the front pages of newspapers, crackled into regular radio reports, flickered in newsreels, and even saddened the whispers and diaries of children hiding in an Amsterdam attic. The world knew.

With study, revelation, and investigation, many now understand how we got here. Make no mistake. The Germans did it. Their allies and accomplices did it. Hitler did it.

But Hitler had help.

Der Fuhreradopted the Jew-hating ideology of Henry Ford, whose car company distributorships mass-circulated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Dearborn Independent so often quoted and lionized by Hitler. Nazism was driven by the American pseudoscience of eugenics that called for the elimination and even the chamber gassing of so-called inferior social groups, a murderous medical discipline developed in America by our great universities in the first two decades of the twentieth century, but then transplanted into Nazi Germany and even into Mengele’s Auschwitz laboratory by the million-dollar charitable programs of the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Hitler’s troops dismounted their WWI-era horses and stormed into Poland and the rest of Europe in a never-before-seen Blitzkrieg, driving the Blitz truck and flying JU-88 bombers both manufactured under corporate camouflage by General Motors under the direct supervision of its offices in Detroit. And it was up to IBM—the solutions company—to organize all six phases of the Holocaust: identification, exclusion, asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. With its advanced punch card technology, IBM knowingly conducted the census to identify the Jews, religious or not, made the railroads run on time, and pinpointed Jewish bank accounts to seize. Every concentration camp had its own IBM customer site. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number before it morphed into other serial systems.

Profit was the perfidious ally of the perpetrators of the Holocaust because whether it was the Aryanization of the corner grocery store in Berlin or the millions hidden by IBM in cloaked bank accounts in Prague, the malice and the murder was made all the more morally manageable by the tintinnabulation of money. For some, the clatter of the coins could drown out the screams of the victims

So, today we know more about how we came here… but how many truly understand where we really are. Do not believe that the Holocaust is a mere scar from afar. Yes, it is a sickness but one that has re-abrupted like an irrepressible plague. We have seen the infection in Rwanda with the Tutsis, in Syria with the Yazidis and Christians, in Darfur with Black Africans.

We warn, we write poetry, we assemble in Rotundas, publish books, we solemnly chant “never again.” Now, we know better. We silently whisper, not just “never again,” but … “oh, no… not again.”

There is no hate without fear. But hate cannot triumph in a world of enlightenment. So, what is the true challenge to both our legacy and our future. Is it men with Nazi emblems and burning crosses or is it really something else? Flags, white sheets hoods, and venomous marches, we can see. Less visible is the new emerging enemy of enlightenment, and purifying spotlight.

Inscribe their names upon your notepads and your desktops. Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more who in their misguided algorithms decide what shall be seen and what shall be shuttered, who will be heard and who shall be demurred.

The triumph of ignorance with all its well-intended coding rises to a level of censorship only imagined by George Orwell. Last Christmas, Amazon quietly informed publishers that history books about the Holocaust and even the Third Reich could no longer display a swastika on the cover when sold outside North America. So, my book Nazi Nexus about Ford, General Motors, Carnegie, Rockefeller and IBM was re-designed without the swastika for European sale. Many more famous books chronicling the hell of Nazi Germany are now being re-designed without swastikas on the covers for overseas.

A mere photo of a Holocaust history book on Facebook recently was cautioned with a warning tab to be clicked that the topic might be distressing; that book was the recently published Czech language edition of my book IBM and the Holocaust. It is now possible for routine computer programs now in use at Twitter and Facebook to create zombie accounts where the users think they are communicating with the world—but their message in quarantined and no one sees it. Goebbels needed minders sitting in newsrooms. Facebook and Twitter only to click a few keys—and most will never even know they have been muffled.

Now, nations are re-inventing their history. Poland has criminalized the discussion of the involvement and collaboration of its citizen with the Nazi killing machine. The Poles were involved. When a town’s Jews were publicly marched and trucked to the shooting pits, who took their property and auctioned it off the next day in the school yard or town square? Just hours after the new law took effect, the first Polish lawsuit was filed against an Argentinian newspaper that used a war-time photograph.

Lithuania has followed suit quickly with a pending amendment to its “Law on Consumer Protection” that would outlaw books critical of the country during the Holocaust—Lithuania where 90 percent of Jews perished, and many at the hands of their Lithuanian neighbors. These laws will be used by misguided programmers in Silicon Valley to avoid liability by simply quietly shutting out the history.

What if a tree falls and no one hears the sound? What if six million people perish and no one is reminded?

Hitler declared who will remember the Armenians? When my mother was pushed thru the vent in the boxcar en route to Treblinka, her mother said, “tell someone.” My father fought as a partisan in the woods for two years with her to ensure that I would be here to “tell someone.”

What if we tell the world and the world cannot hear us. How sad that we have struggled with Holocaust denial and belief? Might we next struggle with induced collective amnesia? Ask not what you remember. Ask what your children’s children will know.

The new battleground is not in some basement or backyard where hate is brewing. It’s not on the street. It’s in your phone and on your screen where history, anguish, and the rallying cry of “never again” to all humankind will be a muffled echo within an Internet algorithm. We must fight back against the electronic ghetto, the digital ghetto, and the algorithm ghetto. This is the new Challenge of Legacy.


Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Nazi Nexus.

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents

Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email


Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland


Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco


Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles


Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


and FROM FACEBOOK:

“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

Holocaust Survivors Sue Polish Publisher for Publishing Holocaust Denial Books

Photo from YouTube.

A couple of Holocaust survivors and a former Polish Home Army member are suing a Polish publishing company for publishing books that feature Holocaust denialism.

The publisher, Andrezj Ryba and Katmar, published the books The Age of Hitler 1 and The Age of Hitler 2. Hitler the Democrat, which were written by former SS Officer Leon Degrelle. The books openly deny the Holocaust and spew pro-Nazi propaganda, as evident by passages that downplay Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as “pro-Zionist” propaganda that was “designed for financial gain.” The books also attempt to portray Hitler in a more favorable light, claiming that “being cruel was not in his nature.”

The attorney for the survivors, Wojciech Kozlowsk, told the Jerusalem Post that this was the first time such a lawsuit has been issued in Poland.

“Although promotion of Nazism and Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in Poland, and in theory prosecutable in the criminal courts, in practice the public prosecutor fails to act effectively in the majority of cases,” Kozlowsk said.

The plaintiffs, who remain anonymous, are in their 80s. Two of them were rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto and the other was a part of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. They are requesting that the publisher pay 40,000 Zlotys ($11,600 in U.S. dollars) to charity and issue an apology.

“The motivation behind my involvement in this case is to protect historical truth about Nazi crimes and to pass this truth on to the young generations of Poles,” a plaintiff said.

Brooke Goldstein, executive of The Lawfare Project, which is supporting this lawsuit, hailed the plaintiffs as “heroes.”

“Their harrowing testimonies are a reminder of the unimaginable horror of the Nazis,” Goldstein told the Post “Despite their age, and the trauma of their experiences, it is humbling to see their courage in standing up for the truth.”

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Baking Matzah in Hiding

Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Baking matzah in hiding; Lodz, Poland, 1943.

THE POLISH JEWISH STORY: A Historian Examines A Complex Relationship

A Jewish platoon of the Polish Underground in Hanaczow, Lwów district. Photo courtesy of Leopold Kozłowski.

Some books are timely, others are useful and still others are good. Joshua D. Zimmerman’s “The Polish Underground and the Jews 1939-1945” (Cambridge University Press) is all three.

What makes it timely is recently passed Polish law that criminalizes any mention of Poles “being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” The ultra-nationalist Law and Justice Party government is committed to advancing a Polish-centric agenda, openly pushing to rewrite the country’s history to stress Polish heroism and obliterate Polish guilt.

Zimmerman’s meticulously researched, scrupulously balanced and comprehensively written work will create much anguish for those attempting to rewrite that history. For few have done the work to examine all the records and fewer still will balance the evidence without bending it to arrive at seemingly irrefutable conclusions.

Polish nationalistic historians won’t be the only ones upset by his findings. Jewish historians who seek simple answers and don’t want to deal with the complications of the Polish situation will find his balance disconcerting. The story is complicated and Zimmerman does not shy away from presenting the complications clearly, unraveling the puzzle and reassembling its parts so that the reader can understand the complexities.

Among serious scholars, it is axiomatic that good scholarship drives out bad scholarship. And for good scholarship there is no substitute for serious homework, going to archives, reviewing the evidence, reading memoirs and listening to testimony, and weighing all this material to present a coherent picture of the whole.

Joshua D. Zimmerman

Zimmerman’s meticulously researched work will create much anguish for those attempting to rewrite that history.

Some scholars do a marvelous job of presenting an overarching theory and then leave the reader and researcher wanting for particular evidence or indications why contrary conclusions don’t hold up. Other scholars drown the reader in detail but miss the larger perspective. Zimmerman does neither; attention to detail substantiates the general picture he offers and illustrates what he is trying to show. One must appreciate such detail and value his major substantive conclusions.

One of them is that the Polish Underground’s attitude toward the Jews reflected the political views of its major constituent bodies, military officers and individuals in pre-war Poland. Those who were open to a more pluralistic Polish society that accepted minorities as part of the landscape of Poland had a radically different attitude toward the Jews than those whose orientations were more nationalistic in the most narrow sense of the term. I suspect that what was true then is still true today.

The attitude toward the Jews was not only a mirror of pre-war attitudes but depended on geography and on the progress of the war. Why geography? Attitudes in the East (the territories first occupied by the Soviet Union after Sept. 17, 1939) were far different than in territories solely occupied by Germany. Poles in the East did not appreciate why Jews were far more welcoming to Soviet occupation when the alternative was German occupation. They were far more ready to identify Jews with Communism, far less willing to understand the impact that Communism had on individual Jews  — capitalists and merchants — and on Judaism while also protecting Jews in Soviet-occupied sectors from ghettoization and vilification by German anti-Semitism.

Why timing and the progress of the war? The Polish Underground’s attitude toward the Jews also underwent a significant shift when it appeared that the Soviet Union, rather than the Allies, would liberate Poland from Nazi Germany. The Polish Underground opposed Nazi Germany but it also properly feared that liberation by the Soviet Union would be a pretext to Soviet domination, not Polish national independence, and certainly not the post-World War I Poland that the Polish people had enjoyed.

How was the attitude toward the Jews affected by the unfolding of the world war and the war against the Jews? It shifted as the larger fate of Polish Jews under German occupation became clear. As the scope, discipline and progress of the killing unfolded, Poles’ reaction toward the Jews changed. Those who would argue that even Poles who resisted German occupation were not unhappy about Germany’s eliminating Jews from Poland — all the while feeling revolted by the means — will find much in Zimmerman’s work to substantiate their views. But he also brings evidence that as the murder of the Jews became more widely appreciated, some Poles became more sympathetic toward their disappearing neighbors.

While the content of this work is exceedingly disquieting, the work of the historian is deeply satisfying.

Why timing? The attitude toward Jews, and especially toward arming Jews, changed after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the gesture of the ghetto resistance to fly a Polish flag and to proclaim their fight — for our freedom and yours. Zimmerman’s chapters on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising on 1944 are comprehensive and insightful. The Polish government-in-exile faced different pressure than the army in the field. The participation of Jewish representatives in the governing council strengthened the support for the Jews from within the government and the desperate need of the Polish government-in-exile for Allied support, and its physical location in Churchill’s London rather than Stalin’s Moscow made it imperative that they portray their struggle for Poland as a democratic one.

The Polish Underground depended on the dedication of its participants to the cause of the Polish nation and their antipathy toward the occupation. Therefore, it was not as willing to define the meaning of “Polish nation.” It did not want to say aloud that Jews might again be considered second-class citizens and not quite part of the Polish nation, even though they were citizens of the Polish state.

Zimmerman is careful to consider individual responsibility and not just general policy. Officers lead their soldiers, men and women in this case, and they set standards for them of what is acceptable and not acceptable, of what is expected and not expected. Some are motivated by ideology and some by the camaraderie of battle, the ties that bind soldiers to one another. Because he has read memoirs extensively and reviewed testimony carefully, Zimmerman is able to show how the attitudes of individual officers and soldiers shaped the attitude of the Underground to the Jews and determined the fate of individual Jews.

Some will read Zimmerman’s book selectively. For example, he devotes an entire section to the institutional efforts of the Polish underground toward the Jews. The behavior and the values of Zegotta — the clandestine wartime organization dedicated to rescuing Jewish children — are admirable. And he recounts the heroic efforts of couriers, especially Jan Karski, who secretly brought Jewish communiques to the West. Yet he also details craven collaboration and institutional efforts that intensified the risk to Jews and facilitated their demise. Both were present in wartime Poland, and the current government’s effort to eliminate all mention of the latter will force historians outside of Poland to question whether a depiction of the heroic Poles alone is credible.

The publications of the Polish Underground and not just its reports to the government-in-exile give a real-time understanding of what was known about the Jews’ fate — and when and by whom. It makes more urgent the English language publication of these bulletins, which currently are available only in Polish.

Zimmerman has set a standard of comprehensiveness, excellence, meticulousness and balance. While the content of this work is exceedingly disquieting, the work of the historian is deeply satisfying.


Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University. For the past decade, he has taught the Holocaust to teachers at Jagiellonian University in Poland.

Report: Trump Admin Bans Polish President, Prime Minister from WH Over Holocaust Law

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in the White House East Room in Washington, U.S. March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

A report from a Polish media outlet is claiming that the Trump administration will not meet with Poland’s president or prime minister unless the recently passed Holocaust law is rescinded.

The Onet website is reporting that a memo from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell to the Polish government condemned the law and stated that “no high-level bilateral contacts between countries” would occur unless the law is repealed. Mitchell also gave Poland an ultimatum that Congress would zero out funding to joint military projects in Poland if the law remains intact and the U.S. would severely retaliate if any American faces criminal punishment under the law.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki told the Associated Press that the report was not true, although he admitted that the White House was not pleased with the law.

The Polish Foreign Ministry told The Hill in a statement, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received signals that the American administration is concerned about the implementation of the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance. However, since then, Polish diplomats have conducted a series of meetings, in which it was thoroughly explained to our partners, not only American, the scope of the proposed changes in Polish law and the essence of the legislative process in Poland.”

Under the law, those who claim that Poland was complicit in the Nazis’ atrocities toward Jews during the Holocaust face a maximum of three years in prison.

The law has caused a rift between Israel and Poland. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has excoriated Poland for the law, stating, “There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is attempting to ease the tension between the countries.

“Amid the rising wave of antisemitism in Europe, our country is again the safe haven for the Jewish community – as it was throughout the eight centuries before World War II,” Morawiecki wrote in a letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. “I would like to assure you that I will do my best to improve our relations and put importance on our common history of living and, unfortunately, enormous suffering, on Polish soil. Both Poland and Israel have the moral obligation to be the guardians of the truth of Holocaust because of their history.”

Report: Polish Anti-Semitism Widely Pervasive During Holocaust

Photo from Pixabay.

A largely unknown document reveals that anti-Semitism among Poles during World War II was on the same level as Nazi anti-Semitism.

According to the Jerusalem Post, a 1946 report from the State Department concluded that even before the war started, anti-Semitism was pervasive in Poland from “a continuation of activities by right-wing groups,” thus making them more receptive to Nazi ideology.

“In the jockeying for political preference in Poland after 1919, most of the major political parties – with the exception of leftist groups – followed an anti-Semitic line,” the report states. “Catholic Church leaders, from Cardinal Hlond down, preached antisemitism and favored an economic boycott of the Jews.”

During the war, anti-Semitism under the Polish Army caused Jewish soldiers to flee the Army and seek refuge in other Allied armies.

The anti-Semitism continued even after the collapse of the Third Reich, as Poles conducted waves of violence against Jews, resulting in Jews leaving the country for West Germany.

“There is not much that is essentially new or different in the current anti-Semitic agitation,” the document stated.

The report comes as Poland is under fire for passing a new law that punishes those who claim that Poland is in any way responsible for the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The report would seem to undermine proponents of the law who seek to absolve Poland of blame from the Holocaust.

Additionally, Poland has since sought to outlaw kosher meat slaughter and halted efforts to return property to Holocaust survivors.

Israel and Poland’s diplomatic relations have been icy since the passage of law, with Israel ardently criticizing the bill.

Polish Progressive Judaism Group Voices Opposition to Poland’s Holocaust Bill

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A Polish progressive Judaism group has voiced opposition to Poland’s drafted bill that would criminalize certain phrases regarding Poland’s role in the Holocaust.

Beit Polska – The Union of Polish Progressive Jewish Communities and the European Union of Jewish Progressivism (EUJP) issued a statement expressing concern about a bill that would subject those who accuse Poland “of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich” to a maximum sentence of three years in prison. It has already passed the Lower House of Poland’s Parliament.

“We agree that it is inappropriate to call German Nazi Death Camps located on Polish soil ‘Polish Death Camps,’ but the legislation as drafted is much wider than that one issue,” the organizations stated. “It also includes legally undefined terms that could be subject to many interpretations with severe consequences. In addition, we consider it draconian and disproportionate for the legislation to impose substantial fines and possible prison sentences for misuse of words.”

They added, “It is important the horrors of the Holocaust are not forgotten and future generations learn from them so that these are never repeated anywhere in the World. The present drafting of the Act has the real danger of inhibiting discussion, investigation and commemoration of the tragic events that took place on Polish soil.”

The organizations called the legislation to either be altered or abolished altogether.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also expressed his opposition to the bill.

“One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” said Netanyahu in a statement.

Outrage to the bill has even extended to Los Angeles, as Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum issued a statement condemning the bill.

“I am appalled by the efforts of the current Polish government to deny the history of the involvement and collaboration of some Poles in the attempted genocide of the entire Jewish people on Polish soil,” said Nussbaum. “As I expressed to Polish government officials when I visited Poland last summer, we condemn the Poles who helped murder Polish Jews and honor those who rescued Polish Jews. We all must have the courage to face our history, no matter how painful, in order to inspire a better future.”

Polish President Andrezj Duda hasn’t decided on if he’ll sign the law, but he took umbrage to Israel’s criticism of the law and declared that Poland needed to be able fight back against “evident slander.”

As The New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, while it’s true that the Nazis occupied Poland and are responsible for the death camps, “Poles were directly or indirectly complicit in the crimes committed on their land and that Poles were guilty of anti-Jewish pogroms during and after the war.”

“These are the facts of that terrible history, and the Poles, like all other nations conquered by Germany that became embroiled in the Nazi atrocities, have an obligation to the victims and to the future to seek the full truth, however painful,” the editorial stated.

Christmas Borscht in a Jewish Town

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about my visit to Veselka, a renowned Ukrainian restaurant on Manhattan’s very Jewish-centric Lower East Side, is that the restaurant is, in fact, not Jewish. After my many visits to Veselka over the years, so many bowls of matzo ball soup and having eaten more than my weight in pierogi and potato pancakes, I guess I just assumed it was a Jewish restaurant. To add to my confusion, a larger-than-life “Happy Challahdays” sign is one of the first things you notice when you walk into the buzzing luncheonette.

That’s the thing about New York and Jewish food. Words like shlep and schmear and farkakteh are such an integral part of the everyday New Yorker’s lexicon, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the whole city is not just one big Jewish enclave.

I once read that the Lower East Side of Manhattan is considered the “Plymouth Rock of American Jewry.” When you consider that five out of six American Jews have origins in Eastern Europe, the vast majority of whom immigrated to cities and towns on the East Coast, it stands to reason that Jewish influence would have tremendous impact on the food and culture.

Because food is the greatest and most powerful unifier, imagine the joy hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans felt for that shared cuisine when Veselka opened in 1954 as a small newspaper, candy and cigarette stand. With only six stools in the original U-shaped diner, it began to sell sandwiches and coffee as well as Ukrainian specialties such as pierogi and borscht to meet the demand of the more than 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants who called the area their home at the time.

Words like shlep and schmear and farkakteh are such an integral part of the everyday New Yorker’s lexicon, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the whole city is not just one big Jewish conclave.

Germans, Italians, Poles — Jews and non-Jews alike — made up the fabric of the neighborhood in the 1950s and contributed rich and diverse dishes from their homelands.

This is one of the many reasons to love this part of New York City.  Even with the city’s neverending push to reinvent itself, phasing out the mom-and-pop diners and gentrifying neighborhoods whose inhabitants seem sewn into the landscape, there are and always will be gems like Veselka that serve the kind of soul food that manages to pull the heartstrings at first bite.

Although Veselka’s renowned borscht is made with pork butt and topped with sour cream, making it doubly unkosher, I was lucky enough to be there to watch its equally iconic Christmas borsht prepared. Ukrainian and Polish Christmas Eve is a fasting day when no meat is consumed. But the day culminates in a 12-course feast of which the first course is always vegetarian Christmas borscht. This works perfectly for Jews as well because a fabulous big bowl of “Veselka Red” just begs for a heaping dollop of sour cream and chopped dill.

Veselka’s Christmas borscht is served with dreamy little mushroom-and-onion dumplings called vushka (tiny ears in Ukrainian.) We will leave those for another day, but I’ve found that adding some sliced porcini or portobello mushrooms to the borscht will approximate the texture and contrast nicely with the earthy beet stock. Also, as a departure from Veselka’s recipe and Christmas borscht in general, I like to add back in some of the beets as well as all of the vegetables because I like my soup chunky. Feel free to follow the recipe exactly if you prefer a more brothlike soup.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of steps in this recipe. They are all very simple, and the soup itself can be prepared over a few days if you wish. It also freezes beautifully. Feel free to use chicken or beef stock in place of vegetable stock, and then perhaps use an inferior but better-than-nothing nondairy sour cream alternative.

Any way you want to make this soup, though, know that it’s much more than just a bowl of ruby red beets and humble vegetables. It’s the shared dreams and goals of the people of ancient lands and common heritage who happened to find themselves pressed together in the little bubble that is the Lower East Side.

VESELKA’S
CHRISTMAS BORSCHT
(Adapted from “The Veselka Cookbook” by Tom Birchard and Natalie Danford (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009)
2 pounds beets, trimmed and scrubbed,
unpeeled (small, young beets are best)
¾ cup white or apple cider vinegar (if you are sensitive to the taste of vinegar,
reduce the amount but don’t  leave it out entirely as it keeps the beets their vibrant red color)
4 cups water
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup porcini or white button mushrooms,
sliced (optional)
4 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
5 whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon sugar, more to taste
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground
black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt, more to taste
3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped,
for garnish
4 tablespoons sour cream or crème
fraiche, for garnish

Coarsely chop the beets in a food processor. In a medium pot, combine beets, vinegar and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beets are soft, about 45 minutes. Strain and set aside juice. Veselka uses these cooked beets for its wonderful beet salad. I like to put half of them back into the stock and eat them in the soup.

In another medium pot, add carrot, celery, onion, mushrooms (if using), vegetable stock, bay leaves and allspice berries, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Strain and discard vegetables and aromatics. Again, Veselka discards the vegetables. I don’t. Rather, I pick out the bay leaves and allspice berries and keep the vegetables.

Combine strained stock and beet juice and simmer 5 minutes. Add sugar, garlic, black pepper, and season with sugar and salt to taste. Serve with half the beets, the vegetables and sprinkled with dill. Top with sour cream if desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Episode 71: What the Hell is Going on in Poland?

Photo from Mazaki.

I (Naor) just came back from a ten day trip in Poland. What I saw there perplexed me. On one hand, Poland is going through massive political changes in which the far right have taken control over the country. Recently, a bill was passed that gives the right wing government greater control of the Supreme Court.

Just last month, tens of thousands of anti semitic protesters marched through the streets of Warsaw shouting racist chants.

On the other hand, the Jewish community is still present and actually at its prime since WW2. One memeber of the Jewish community there is Matan Shefi. Matan decided to move to Warsaw three years ago with his wife and the two still live there today. Matan works at the Jewish Historical Institute and helps people trace their Jewish roots in Poland.

Today, Matan joins us to talk about his new home, his work and recent developments in Poland.

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Finding the Family He Never Knew

Leo Wolinsky (center, in front) looks at a display during his day with junior high students in Grodek, Poland, as part of the Forum’s School of Dialogue program. Photo by J. Szkarła

As a child, my father’s family was an abstraction to me.

His parents and six brothers and sisters existed mainly in sepia-toned photographs on fading and dog-eared pages of an old album. From the little I was told, they lived in a small town in Poland, where all but my father and his youngest sister died at the hands of the Nazis.

But until I ventured to that town with the help of the nonprofit Forum for Dialogue, all I knew was of their deaths. I never fully grasped their lives.

In September, I spent a day with a group of Polish junior high school students whose major project — launched last year under the Forum’s School of Dialogue program — was to study the Jewish history of Grodek, my dad’s hometown.

It turned out to be a day I’ll never forget.

Grodek is a small village in far eastern Poland where the population numbers fewer than 3,000. Back in the 1930s, it could have passed for Anatevka, the fictional hometown of Tevye, the Dairyman from the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” At one time between the world wars, Jews comprised nearly 75 percent of Grodek’s population. Today there are none.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, what was left of the Jewish community vanished one morning. At 5 a.m. Nov. 1, 1942, horse-drawn carriages took those who had survived the initial Nazi onslaught to the nearby city of Bialystok.

There, they were herded into trains headed for the notorious Treblinka death camp, where the Germans learned how to industrialize murder with brutal efficiency. They killed a staggering 900,000 Jews and 200,000 Gypsies in only 15 months.

Two years ago, my wife, Lee, and I made our first trip to Poland, joining with others in a Forum study tour that took us all over the country.

We visited large cities and small towns. We spoke with ordinary people, school kids, academics and top officials. We saw the Warsaw Ghetto and what had been the Jewish quarter in Krakow. In a solemn and emotional ceremony, we said Kaddish for all the souls lost to Nazi genocide at the frightening Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps.

We even ventured off alone to Grodek in hopes of learning something of my family’s fate. We discovered that the street names had been changed and houses renumbered since the war. We were shown the boundaries of its ghetto and located the town’s abandoned and neglected Jewish cemetery. It’s the only enduring reminder of its Jewish past.

But we learned little of my family’s life.

My trip back to Grodek in September was different.

Despite Poland’s reputation for having been indifferent, or worse, to the fate of Jews during the war, the students I met were genuinely enthusiastic about honoring the town’s Jewish past.

The day began with a ceremony, led by the mayor, to honor a Jewish physician who was a beloved mainstay of Grodek in the 1930s and was murdered by the Nazis. Two students spoke eloquently about what Dr. Lew Cukierman meant to the community. I was given the honor of briefly speaking to the crowd, which included many adults and the entire student body.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, what was left of the Jewish community vanished one morning.

From here, the students led me on a journey through the streets of Grodek to paint a picture of what life was like before and during the war. They not only told these stories but also acted them out — wearing clothing from the era and wielding implements used in daily life. At one stop, they even prepared food like that served in the 1930s. The table was set in front of a former restaurant where my family almost certainly had gathered for meals.

Other stops included the boundaries of the ghetto, the location of textile mills that drove the town’s economy, the Jewish school that my family likely attended, a drugstore that had been run by a Jewish pharmacist and the outdoor market where residents bargained for their groceries and other daily needs.

Along the way, I chatted with noted Polish contemporary artist and local activist Leon Tarasewicz, who happened to be in town and joined our tour. I had lunch with the principal and her staff of teachers.

The last stop was outside the one-time home of Josef Abramicki. He seemed like a man for all seasons. He ran a barbershop, a photography studio and directed the local Jewish drama group.

The name Abramicki rang a bell. He had been mentioned in an old letter as a close friend of the family. Among his photographs displayed by the students was a dark portrait of an actor in his Yiddish theater. To my amazement, she turned out to be Chaya, one of my aunts.

As I walked the dirt backstreets of this town, I felt the family’s presence.

Back in the classroom later in the day, the students asked me questions about Jewish life in the United States. I asked them more about their project.

I also shared with them the story of my only surviving aunt. She had escaped the Nazis by fleeing into the forest that surrounds Grodek. There, she joined with Russian partisans in guerrilla warfare against the Nazis and was wounded in battle. In 1958, she returned to Grodek. In a brief account of her life written for Yad Vashem, she declared: “I am the last Jewish girl of our town.”

After hearing the story, one student openly wept.

For these youngsters to care so deeply about people very different from themselves who died generations before they were born is truly remarkable.

It gives hope that someday we might rid ourselves of the kind of prejudice that sparked the Nazi genocide, killing 6 million Jews — most of whom lived in Poland. It also attests to the power and importance of programs like the Forum’s, which has dedicated itself to forging connections between contemporary Poland and the Jewish people.

I know I’ll return to this town. I now feel bonded to it as if it were my own.

And, of course, in a different reality, it could have been just that.


Leo Wolinsky, a Los Angeles journalist, has served as managing editor of the Los Angeles Times and editor of Daily Variety.

Mina Wilner: Saved by a ‘Remarkable Woman’

Photo by David Miller

Late one afternoon in July 1942, Mina Lejzerowicz, 12, dutifully accompanied her parents and two younger brothers to a spot in the Warsaw Ghetto near the high brick wall that enclosed it.

Mina’s father, Berl, opened a potato sack. The plan was to place Mina inside and toss the sack over the wall. On the other side, a Polish man would retrieve her, handing her over to Jadwiga Gagol, the family’s former nanny, who had bribed him. But Mina’s mother objected. “They’re going to kill my child,” she told her husband. “I don’t want to do this.”

A disagreement ensued. Berl suggested a trial run. He filled the sack with stones and wood, then pitched it over the wall. Immediately, the Germans opened fire. Mina’s parents quietly led her and her brothers back to their apartment.

“I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be with my parents,” Mina recalled.

But Mina knew that Jadwiga was determined to save her and her brothers. “I’m not going to allow for the children to be killed,” she had told Mina’s parents. And while Mina’s mother, Cyla, was afraid her daughter couldn’t survive alone, Berl supported the idea.

In preparation to rescue Mina — her brothers were more challenging to rescue because, as circumcised males, they were easily identifiable as Jews — Jadwiga had rented a one-room apartment outside the ghetto, where no one knew her.

“She loved my parents and the three children,” Mina said.

Mina was born in Warsaw on April 1, 1930. Her brother Eliezer was born in 1931 and Moshe in 1936. The family was well off, living in a four-room apartment in an elegant building.

“I grew up in a happy home,” Mina recalled. Her mother, from an affluent family, was a graduate of the Sorbonne, a dentist who didn’t practice. Mina’s father, who grew up poor, co-owned two butcher shops in Warsaw.

Mina began public school at age 6. But walking there, accompanied by a nanny, she was often accosted by Polish boys who called her “dirty Jew” and more than once pushed her to the ground.

On Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany attacked Poland, Mina was at the family’s summer cottage in Michalin, 35 miles southwest of Warsaw, with her brothers and the family’s two maids. Her father sent a driver with a horse and wagon to fetch them.

Back in Warsaw, Mina learned that war had broken out. At night, she and her brothers slept on the floor of their parents’ room, huddling in the basement whenever bombs fell.

By October 1940, the ghetto, in an area that contained their apartment building, had been established. Soon hunger was a constant companion, even though Jadwiga, whenever possible, bribed guards and brought the family food. Other times she threw horsemeat over the wall. Berl retrieved it, cut it up and sold it.

“My parents never ate. Whatever food they had, they gave to the children,” Mina said.

Mina saw skeletal adults walking around in threadbare clothing, and children covered with newspapers on the streets, begging for food. But most horrifying were the dead bodies that piled up, waiting collection by men pulling two-wheeled carts. “You cannot even imagine,” she said.

Mina saw skeletal adults walking around in threadbare clothing, and children covered with newspapers on the streets, begging for food.

When the plan to throw Mina over the wall failed, Jadwiga made arrangements for Mina to walk out of the ghetto with a crew of 20 prisoners who worked for a local farmer. As the farmer headed to lunch that day with his girlfriend, some older prisoners instructed her to run. They pointed to the nearby tram station, where Mina found Jadwiga waiting.

The two returned to Jadwiga’s apartment, where Mina continually cried for her mother. “Take her away,” Jadwiga’s husband insisted. “They’re going to kill all of us.” But Jadwiga refused. “She has to live,” she said.

Mina remained primarily in the apartment, where Jadwiga brought her books and food she purchased with gold pieces and jewelry Mina’s parents had given her.

One morning, Jadwiga came racing back to the apartment. “Quick, hide in the armoire,” she said. Soon, two Germans entered, asking if Jadwiga was hiding a Jewish girl. Mina then accidentally banged her elbow against the armoire, making a noise, and one of the Germans tried to open the armoire door, jangling the keys which Jadwiga had inadvertently left in the lock. But he inexplicably stopped, and they left.

The next day Jadwiga took Mina by train to stay temporarily with her elderly brother and his daughter in Piotrkow Trybunalski, a hamlet 85 miles southwest of Warsaw.

Sometime later — Mina doesn’t know how long — Jadwiga moved her to Sulejowek, a town 12 miles east of Warsaw, to work for an 80-year-old woman. “She was a witch from the witchland,” Mina recalled, although Jadwiga hadn’t known of the woman’s cruel nature. Only through the kindness of two housekeepers who also worked there did Mina receive any food.

In November 1944, the Soviets liberated them. Even then, Mina was afraid to tell people she was Jewish.

One morning, sometime after Jan. 17, 1945, when the Soviets occupied Warsaw, Mina was sent to the city, a 12-mile trek, to find the old woman’s daughter and granddaughter. As she was walking with them, she heard Eliezer calling her name. She hadn’t seen her brother since escaping from the ghetto in the summer of 1942.

At the suggestion of the old woman’s daughter, whom Mina described as “an angel,” Mina took Eliezer back with her to Sulejowek that afternoon.

Eliezer, along with Mina’s parents and younger brother Moshe, had been deported from the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943. Mina’s father, at his wife’s suggestion, had thrown Eliezer from the train, and the boy had spent the rest of the war hiding in forests and wandering from farm to farm.

Later, Mina learned from Jadwiga that her parents and Moshe had perished in Treblinka. Jadwiga had traveled there to try to rescue them, but she was too late.

Appreciative of the wood Eliezer chopped for her, the old woman treated him kindly. But Eliezer soon left for the newly established Jewish orphanage in Otwock, outside Warsaw, to attend school. “I don’t want to go as Jews — they’re going to kill us,” Mina had told him.

But soon after, Jadwiga came to escort her there. “I want you to be educated,” she said.

At Otwock, Mina studied and was treated for tuberculosis. Meanwhile, Eliezer escaped from the orphanage, making his way to Palestine.

Eager to reunite with him, Mina joined a group of orphanage children who were taken to a Jewish camp in Verberie, France, outside Paris, and later — Mina is not sure of the date — to Palestine.

Mina married a Polish survivor in 1949. Their daughter, Clilit, was born six years later. The family immigrated to Los Angeles in 1963, and Mina divorced her husband soon after, supporting herself as a manicurist.

On April 25, 1971, Mina married Henry Wilner, a survivor and widower with three sons. “My husband was my life,” Mina said. Henry died in 1997, and Mina, now 87, has two grandchildren, whom she considers “the biggest gift in my life.”

When Mina left Poland, she lost touch with Jadwiga, who she believes died not long afterward. She had no children.

“She was a remarkable woman,” Mina said. “She saved my life.”

Polish Citizenship for This Jewish Boy? Not So Fast

Eitan Arom in front of the ramshackle college built by his great-grandfather in Lizhensk, Poland. Photo by Eitan Arom.

My passport is not much to look at. It’s dog-eared, many of the stamps are fading, and the back has been covered in a sticky film since I pasted a baggage claim tag there about a decade ago.

Yet as soon as I step outside American borders, it becomes my most valuable possession — my ticket back to everything I know and love. And it’s more than that, because that sad-looking little pamphlet is the most tangible link between me and my nationality. Functionally, it’s my stockholder’s certificate in this great big company called America.

These days, many Americans are looking to diversify their portfolio: The evening of President Donald Trump’s election in November, Canada’s immigration website reportedly crashed as a result of increased traffic from Americans — Americans looking for an escape hatch. For many American Jews, the most convenient escape hatch — other than Israel — is to turn to the same countries that spurned their ancestors during the Holocaust.

I was afraid I would somehow acquit Poland of the crimes against my family.

For me, that means Poland. I decided to make a guinea pig of myself and see what the citizenship process entails. That’s where Neil Kaplan came in.

Kaplan is a genial businessman in his middle age who’s held a number of leadership posts in media and internet companies, including president of the Jewish Journal’s board. But his most recent gig is closer to home.

After securing Polish citizenship for himself and his family, he decided to open up shop helping others do the same through his website, PolandPassport.com. It turns out, Poland is willing to accept Jews (and others) of Polish ancestry, but only after making them jump through some bureaucratic hoops that are impossible to navigate without a fluency in Polish legalese. Since launching his business in late 2016, he’s evaluated more than 400 cases, roughly 60 percent of them Jews, by his estimate.

Successful applicants get all the benefits of citizenship in a European Union country, including potential tax and tuition advantages and ease of travel and immigration. What’s more, Kaplan and his team don’t get paid until you get your passport.

What did I have to lose?

The first step was filling out a “qualification quiz” on Kaplan’s website: names, birthdates, places — all easy enough for me given my borderline-unhealthy obsession with family history. As I typed, I fit entire generations into the neat little text boxes on the website, distilling sons and fathers and daughters and mothers into a form digestible by the Polish bureaucracy.

I hit “enter” and a few days later, Kaplan called to tell me I had a good shot at obtaining Polish citizenship. The question now became: Did I really want it?

I dodged the question. Kaplan offered me a friends-and-family discount — he’s a longtime friend of the Journal — but still, I couldn’t bring myself to say “yes.” After all, what would my “yes” mean? Would I be forgiving Poland for what happened to my tribe?

For his part, Kaplan doesn’t kid himself, that Polish citizenship makes up for the Holocaust. But if it offers the “tiniest bit of restitution,” he said, then it’s worth taking.

I still wasn’t so sure, so I called somebody who has thought about it a lot more than I have.

Grant Gochin is a South African-born wealth manager in Woodland Hills and the grandson of Jewish Lithuanian refugees. He sued the government of Lithuania five times before it was forced to grant him citizenship. After citizenship was granted to him, he had no second thoughts about taking it.

I explained my hesitation to him — my discomfort with taking anything from Poland. I was afraid I would somehow acquit Poland of the crimes against my family, delivering absolution I have no right to offer.

Gochin told me I was looking at it all wrong. Poland wasn’t giving me anything. Instead, I was claiming something that is mine by birthright.

But furthermore, I would be creating a birthright for my own future children.

“If you can give your kids a Polish document with their name on it, it personalizes their history,” he said. “It’ll show them what they come from so they can personalize it.”

I can sympathize with Gochin’s “future generations” argument. It’s past generations I’m worried about. Consigned to the silence of the grave, they speak through my words, my actions.

Nationhood is an entanglement with the past and the future. It ties you to national inequities and travesties, historical and ongoing, that you might not care to associate with. By accepting Polish citizenship, it seems to me, I would align myself with the nation of my ancestors’ discontent.

Take this story, for instance: In my grandfather’s hometown, after the war, nine Jews returned and settled in a home together. A short while later, a Polish neighbor tossed a grenade into the home, killing all nine. Mind you, this was after Germany had been beaten back.

Now, I don’t blame today’s Poland for that atrocity. But nor can I so easily move on.

I don’t delude myself that America has no blood on its hands. After all, the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans is not so far in the historical rearview mirror.

But unlike Poland, America is the country of my birth, and the stains of its history are my birthright — mine to tussle with and fight to overcome.

Maybe my family members’ opinions toward Polish nationality are more pragmatic. They are welcome to apply on their own, and I’m sure Neil Kaplan would be happy to help them.

But I can’t see myself running headlong toward the nation where my family members were sold up the river, even if it means I can travel more easily or set up shop in Paris.

Almost 80 years have passed since Poland turned into my ancestors’ personal hell. But sometimes that history still feels close — and raw. Maybe 80 years is still too soon.

Rainer Weiss, scientist who fled Nazis, among Nobel Prize in Physics winners

Physicist Rainer Weiss at his home in Newton, Mass., on May 13, 2016. Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Three American scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, including one who fled the Nazis with his parents and another whose grandparents were Polish immigrants.

Rainer Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, both of the California Institute of Technology, were awarded the prize on Tuesday for the discovery gravitational waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space and time that help scientists explore objects in space.

Weiss won half of the $1.1 million prize, with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.

The Nobel winners and the late Ron Dreyer, also of Caltech, founded the international collaboration of physicists and astronomers known as LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. In February 2016, they announced that they had recorded gravitational waves emanating from the collision of a pair of black holes a billion light years away.

Drever died this year; the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

Weiss, 85, was born in Berlin to a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father. The family fled Berlin for Prague when Weiss was a baby because his father was Jewish and a member of the Communist Party. After the Munich agreement in 1938, the family left Prague for the United States. Weiss earned his doctorate from MIT and in 1964 joined its faculty.

Barish, 81, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in Los Angeles, the son of Lee and Harold Barish, the children of Polish immigrants to the United States. He earned his doctorate in 1962 from the University of California, Berkeley, and joined Caltech in 1963.

Thorne, 77, received his doctorate from Princeton University in 1965 and joined Caltech in 1967.

The Izaak Synagogue

Photo from Wikipedia

In Kazimierz, the old Jewish section of Kraków, Poland
We found the Synagogue on Honey Street
but sweetness didn’t sit beneath our tongues,
not when the only Jew who davened there
was black and white: a life-sized cardboard man,
a Hasid from another century
who bent black-coated toward the missing Ark,
bowing, as if half-risen from his seat
and waiting for a prayer to be sung.
Hard to forget his face. But tourists stared
at him then hurried to their caravans,
rushing perhaps to the next oddity.
A kosher meal? A klezmer band? The dark
locations where the ghetto used to rot?
Hard to forget this place. And yet it’s not.


“The Izaak Synagogue” originally appeared in “The Hardship Post” (Three Candles Press, 2009). Jehanne Dubrow is the author of the poetry collections “The Arranged Marriage” (University of New Mexico Press, 2015) and “Red Army Red” (Northwestern University Press, 2012). Her sixth book of poems, “Dots & Dashes,” won the Crab Orchard Review Open Competition and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press this year. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas.

European Jewish Congress slams Poland’s ‘lack of concern’ over anti-Semitism

Polish President Andrzej Duda at the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, on Nov. 28, 2016. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In an unusually harsh condemnation, the European Jewish Congress said the Polish government has a “staggering lack of concern” about anti-Semitism and a “transparent divide-and-rule tactic” vis-a-vis Jews.

The statement Thursday follows an open feud between leaders of Polish Jewry on whether Poland has seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents or sentiment since the rise to power of the nationalist Law and Justice Party in 2015.

The EJC statement offers support for the organization’s Poland affiliates, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and the Jewish Community of Warsaw, in their fight with other Jewish organizations in Poland.

The fight erupted earlier this month when leaders of the affiliated groups blamed the government for allowing, if not encouraging, an alleged increase in anti-Semitism. Other Jewish leaders disputed the claim, saying it constitutes a partisan tactic against the ruling party by the EJC affiliates.

“The EJC notes the staggering lack of concern from the government of Poland to the growth and normalization of anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric in the country in recent times,” the statement read. “The transparent divide-and-rule tactic of senior leaders of the Law and Justice Party in seeking to choose its selected Jewish interlocutors over the heads of official and representative community organizations in Poland leaves us staggered and reminds us of much darker times in Europe when governments chose their Jews.”

The statement referenced a meeting earlier this month hosted by a founder of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, with two Chabad rabbis and Artur Hofman, president of the TSKZ cultural group, which is has offices in 15 cities and is Poland’s largest Jewish organization in terms of membership. An activist for Holocaust commemoration in Poland also attended the meeting.

The meeting, which participants described as friendly and earnest, followed the publication of a critical letter that two leaders of the EJC-affiliated groups sent last month to Kaczynski asserting that there was an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and pleading with the government to intervene to curb it. The leader of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Anna Chipczynska, told JTA that Polish Jews have reached a “low point” in their feeling of safety under Law and Justice.

But Hofman said the claims were part of a “political war” by some leaders of Polish Jewry on Law and Justice. Hofman, who was elected to his position by a majority in his group, said the EJC affiliates were exaggerating about a problem that did not really exist.

On Aug. 21, Sergiusz Kowalski, who had alerted the government about anti-Semitism as president of the Polish branch of the B’nai B’rith Jewish group, called the men who met with Kaczynski “court Jews.”

Jewish life and history are complicated in Poland

President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Paul Nussbaum, during a reflective moment at Auschwitz. Photos by Esther D. Kustanowitz

“There are no Polish concentration camps.”

I felt our group’s energy shift defensively at our guide’s proclamation. Quickly, there was a clarification: This was not a denial of Auschwitz and Birkenau’s existence, but a semantic edit — they were German Nazi camps on Polish soil, not camps established by Poles.

This is the murky, difficult-to-navigate space of contemporary Poland, a country eager to tell its national story but unsure of how to handle the more challenging stories within its history.

As a first-timer in Poland and guest of the Polish Press Office and the Polish government on a recent trip with seven other West Coast Jews, I had to balance the tales I’d heard of Poland’s anti-Semitism with the country’s contemporary, culture-celebrating face: Who has the right to shape the story of what happened in Poland in the 1930s and ’40s and put it into a contemporary Polish context? How could I acknowledge Polish pain within the deep wound of my Jewish pain? And how would being here inform my relationship with Poland and its people?

Joshua Holo, dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Los Angeles and one of the five local people on my trip, explained Polish attempts to present history are “a bit like a three-car accordion mashup.” As he explained, the first car (Nazis) rear-ends a second car (Poles), which then rear-ends a third (Jews). The Poles understand that the third car was damaged but don’t see themselves as responsible.

“In fact,” Holo said, “the Poles braked as hard as they could and heroically tried to avoid damaging the third car, but the violence of the collision proved too much. But the Polish version risks appearing defensive to many Jews and even partially distorted — distorted, that is, where it concerns us most.”

The week before she joined our trip, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, was in Germany and noted how differently the Poles and the Germans handle acceptance of the Holocaust. In Germany, she said, “everywhere you go, there’s testimony to the existence of the Jewish people — memorials, museums, statues. With the Poles, that story is still sort of hidden.” She observed that the Germans are “clearer on their story,” and that “some of their acts of teshuvah (repentance) or reparations is to tell the Jewish story. Poles haven’t yet gotten to the place to say, ‘We were part of this’ because they feel like it was done to them.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum, a trip participant whose Hungarian parents survived Auschwitz, said he believes the responsibility to be vigilant in telling the truth is sacred.

“It is entrusted to us by those who cannot speak their truth themselves,” he said. “So when the truth is hijacked or attempted to be managed for petty political purposes, I am compelled to fight it with all my strength in order to honor my sacred responsibility.”

​Close-up of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial

Everything we did in Poland had two layers — what is now, and what was and is no longer. And the transition often was an emotional and historical whiplash. For instance, our group took a train from Warsaw to Krakow on a Friday for a 650-person Shabbat dinner and a Jewish culture festival held in Kazimierz, which had been Krakow’s Jewish quarter before the Nazis deported the inhabitants. The following morning, we were at Auschwitz, making the weekend feel like a reductive, sped-up tour of the Jewish European experience: vibrant  Jewish culture suddenly, and drastically, dimmed at a concentration camp.

The trip presented contemporary Warsaw and Krakow as Poland’s current cultural and cosmopolitan face to accompany a troubled history. The Poles — at least those we met in the context of our trip — were fond of saying, “There is no Polish history without Polish Jewish history” —  often before reminding us again that the Poles were victims and that they weren’t responsible for the concentration camps.

It seemed like they were sincere and trying to say, “We’re all in this together.” But equating the Jewish and the Polish experience under Nazi-occupied Poland didn’t sit quite right.

At the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is built where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood, our guide shared a legend: When the wandering Jews reached Poland, they saw the word “Polin” — Poland in Yiddish — written on a tree. They mistook it for the Hebrew po-lin, “rest here,” and they did for 1,000 years, until 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population was destroyed in the Holocaust. The architecture of the museum entrance was designed to evoke the parting of the Red Sea and also the bridge of history — a rich Jewish life in Poland, disrupted by the Holocaust, and now moving forward.

The question of where Jewish culture and symbols belong in contemporary Poland is complicated. Because the Jewish population was decimated during the war, the Jewish culture has become for the Poles something exotic, somewhere between a fascination and a fetish. And the elevation of Jewish deference, even for celebratory or festival purposes, may still, for some Jews, feel more like anti-Semitism.

On Aug. 9, JTA reported on a fake Jewish wedding, held by a Polish cultural heritage group, involving a group of non-Jewish volunteers dressed in traditional Charedi costumes. Many Polish souvenir shops sell small figures of bearded Jewish men, called “Lucky Jews.” One of our guides said it’s not considered anti-Semitic, explaining that Jews are so rare as to have become the emblem of good fortune.

And then there is the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, a week in June offering workshops, concerts, tours and lectures for thousands of people for the past 28 years. As the brainchild of Janusz Makuch, a non-Jewish Pole, the festival culminates in a massive, multi-act, outdoor, afternoon-to-night klezmer concert on Szeroka Street in Kazimierz. In the background stands the shul of Rav Moses Isserles (the Rema), considered to be the Maimonides of Polish Jewry.

Makuch spoke with us at a Morocco-and-Israel-themed coffee shop called Cheder Cafe, where many patrons spoke Hebrew. The menu offered Israeli snacks, kosher wine and charoset. The finjans (tea kettles) were authentic, Makuch bragged, from Nazareth.

Makuch grew up knowing nothing about Jews until he visited Kazimierz and realized “there had to be young Jews hungry for knowledge of the world we lost.” He credited young musicians for “bringing real Jewish light to this dark place” and expressed pride in the festival’s mostly non-Jewish volunteers.

The culture festival is curated, likely with the best of intentions, initiated by a new generation trying to apply cultural salve to what the wartime generation had wrought. But some Jews see the result as similar to Disney’s Epcot Center’s treatment of different countries: well-intentioned but inevitably displaying little more than cultural tropes and stereotypes. Jews of the world, ingrained with ancestors’ anecdotes over decades, may not always see this a positive, whatever the intent.

Still, what a marvel, I thought, that 70 years after near extermination, Jewish culture had returned to Krakow. And what a strange gloss on history such a vibrant, loud and musical return of Jewish culture to the main square truly is.

In Warsaw, the ground floor of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) resembles a cafe, with a coffee bar and tables. The JCC also hosts films, events, lectures and classes for its 400 members and 1,000 program participants, most of them young families. And in Krakow, the JCC is serving 630 members and actively building the Jewish community of tomorrow. Its preschool, pristine at the time of our visit, opens this fall.

While most online sources indicate that modern Krakow has “a few hundred Jews,” Jonathan Ornstein, a Polish and United States citizen who is the JCC’s executive director, estimates there are at least 100,000 in Poland and a few thousand in Krakow, but admits, “it’s hard to know.”

He painted a picture beyond verifiable statistics and our American-inflected understanding of “who is a Jew.” A Pole discovers, through a family confession or a box of relics in the attic, that she has a Jewish mother. She becomes involved, even religious. Her 12 other relatives are as Jewish as she is but do not care and do not become involved.

Ornstein knows this kind of story from personal experience. The weekend of our visit, he married his fiancée, Kasia, who had learned of her Jewish heritage only several years ago, after which she sought out the JCC to learn more.

“The people who are living there as Jews clearly want to tell their own story,” said Peretz, recalling another woman who had discovered she was Jewish but didn’t want to be told how to be Jewish. “She and her sons are exploring it, while no one else in their family is interested. We have to be willing to let them write their own story.”

Krakow has seven synagogues within walking distance of one another, and the JCC had 100,000 visitors last year, “after the Polin Museum and the camps, the most visitors,” Ornstein said.

“There’s the idea that we have to treat it [Poland] as a cemetery. Now, there’s a rebirth. Hey, March of the Living, come inside and see some Polish Jewish life,” Ornstein said.

As one example, he mentioned the Krakow JCC fundraising program, Ride for the Living, an 8-hour, 55-mile bike ride starting at Auschwitz and ending in the massive, JCC-orchestrated Shabbat dinner that happens during the culture festival.

“Why are we still around as Jews? We developed values and mechanisms for dealing with our tragic past,” Ornstein said. “We are Jewish despite the Holocaust not because of it.”

Nedda Black, an L.A.-based lawyer on the trip, found this future-driven spirit deeply resonant.

“Polish-Jewish children, no less and no more than American-Jewish children, need to feel loved, to laugh, to experience joy and to have a story that is their own,” she said. “I felt honored that so many Polish Jews shared their stories with me and allowed me into their community and homes to light candles, break bread, sing and dance together with them. In the end, we are all looking for the same things in life.”

Polish soccer fans attack Israeli team after game, two people hurt

Players on the Hapoel Petach Tikvah team seen on a security camera after playing a match in Poland. Screenshot from YouTube

A group of soccer fans in Poland attacked an Israeli team following a game.

Two people affiliated with the Israeli team, Hapoel Petach Tikvah, were injured in the incident Wednesday evening in Sochocin, about 45 miles northwest of Warsaw, after the Israelis defeated MKS Ciechanow, 2-0, in an exhibition game.

Following the game, some masked fans broke onto the field trying to beat the members of the Israeli team and its staff.

MKS Ciechanów condemned the incident and stressed that the club and its fans had nothing to do with it.

“First and foremost, we emphasize that our Club regrets the whole situation and strongly condemns the behavior of the perpetrators of this perilous incident, but at the same time we stress that none of the members of our Club-related community had anything to do with the whole situation,” read a statement issued by the club.

MKS Ciechanów said the attackers were fans of the Legia Warsaw team.

The Israelis said the action was planned because attackers waited until police providing security had left the area.

Police from Plonsk and Radom are investigating the incident.

“The information provided to the police shows that in the area adjacent to the hotel where the Israeli team was staying, a group of masked people rushed to two members of the team, beat them and ran away. The victims suffered minor abrasions,” read the statement on the police website.

The Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport said it is working with authorities in Poland to find those responsible for the attack and see they are punished.

Trump slammed for skipping visit to Warsaw Ghetto memorial

Photo from Ivanka Trump/Twitter

The Jewish community in Poland harshly criticized President Donald Trump for not visiting the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes while in town on Thursday. The site is located barely a mile east of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, where Trump delivered a speech hailing the Polish heroes during WWII.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all US presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto,” Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, Anna Chipczynska, president of Jewish Community of Warsaw, and Leslaw Piszewski, president of Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, said in a joint statement. “For the Jews of Poland, rebuilding in a democratic Poland their communal life, after the horror of the Shoah and the devastation of Communism, this gesture meant recognition, solidarity and hope.”

“We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition, alongside so many other ones,” the local Jewish leaders said.

The White House noted that Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who serves as a senior advisor to the President in the West Wing, laid a wreath at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes and toured the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews prior to joining Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, at Krasinski Square. “It was a deeply moving experience to visit the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes and the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews,” Ivanka said in a statement. “It was a privilege to pay my respects and remember, with gratitude, those who tenaciously fought against all odds. The monument, erected on the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolizes the fight for freedom. I am profoundly grateful for those who fought and all those who continue to fight today.”

Abe Foxman, Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, said he understands the Jewish community’s disappointment, calling it a “missed opportunity” for the President.

“I am glad Ivanka [Trump] went and disappointed that the President of the U.S. did not,” Foxman told Jewish Insider. “It is a small gesture which makes such an important historical and current statement. I understand the Polish Jewish Community’s disappointment. The visit is more a message to the current Polish government and establishment than it is a tribute to the victims.”

In his speech, Trump acknowledged the Polish Jewish community perished in the Holocaust. “Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people,” he said. “A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.”

My ancestor vanished in the Holocaust; 80 years later, I went looking for him

An undated portrait of Asher Arom, taken in Lizhensk, Poland. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

“I need to speak with you.”

Meylakh Sheykhet was a vision from the past. I had no idea who he was when he tapped me on the shoulder in the lobby of the Hotel Dnister in Lviv, Ukraine.

Tall and bearded, with sunken eyes, he cut a jarring figure in his ultra-Orthodox garb. Around us, a conference on Jewish life was in full swing. Meylakh had overheard me saying I was an intern with The Jerusalem Post. He wanted to tell me about the deteriorating state of Jewish sites in the city — and his fight to preserve them.

Meylakh’s work is motivated by an enduring respect, a fascination even, with the dead; they are never far from his mind. Meylakh fights long odds to save Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, to uncover and preserve the burial sites of sages and to stave off destruction when developers encroach on houses of prayer or their ruins. He sleeps little and makes plenty of enemies. We sat down together in the hotel lobby, and he began to talk, quickly and frantically.

To this day, I don’t know whether to thank Meylakh or to curse him. His tap on the shoulder launched an investigation into my roots that spanned two years, three continents and five generations.

As it turned out, my trip to Lviv had brought me within 100 miles of where many of my ancestors had lived and died, just across the border in Poland. Soon after, I found myself awake at odd hours, clicking frantically from link to link as I fell deeper and deeper down digital rabbit holes on websites dedicated to Jewish genealogy.

Names and dates began to harbor an outsized significance. I found myself assaulted by a confounding rush of details, illuminating and otherwise. One figure kept emerging out of that chaos, over and over again, capturing my imagination and curiosity. It was my great-grandfather, a holy man from a rabbinical lineage who made Torah his day and night’s labor. Before long, he was the centerpiece of my frenetic journey of discovery.

I knew then I had to take my search offline. I reached out to relatives whose identities I’d learned on the internet. I pestered my dad with questions. I devoured books on life in the shtetl and on the great Chasidic dynasties of Europe.

Months into my search, I came across my first authentic relic: the calligraphic handwriting of my great-grandfather, poetic Hebrew sentences intertwined with Torah verses in letters he’d written to family in Palestine. My eyes widened. The letters were an unbearably human fragment of a vanished and tragic past. He signed with the same Hebrew spelling as my father, Asher Arom, only adding a shin, vuv, bet afterward for shochet u’bodek, ritual slaughterer. Looking at those letters, I knew I had to go back to Eastern Europe.

As Jews, we’re told that between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God writes and seals the fate of each living soul. So it stands to reason that in September 1939, He was busy plotting against my forebears in Europe.

At the dawn of the Jewish year 5700, one small town in Poland became the crime scene where the Creator carried out His conspiracy against my great-grandfather’s family, with the Nazis as instruments. I suppose you could say I went there to collect evidence to put Him on trial.

cov-eitan-grgrandfather2

Asher Arom in Lizhensk, Poland, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

My trip came less then two years after I first visited Eastern Europe. After two weeks of traveling with my father in Israel, I took a flight from Ben Gurion Airport to Lviv. From there, a bus took me through a foggy February morning and across the Polish border. Every once in a while, the bus swerved into an improbable clearing in the dark woods to pick up someone. My fellow passengers looked to be straight from central casting. The fat matron in the checkered frock, the cadaverous woman with suspicious eyes, the tall man reeking of cigarettes, with a pockmarked face and a jagged scar from the corner of his lip to his ear — these people all looked like they belonged here. The 22-year-old Jewish boy from Beverly Hills did not.

The bus dropped me off in Przemysl (pronounced PSHEH-meh-sheel), an old Polish city of about 65,000 on the San River, where unimaginative Soviet-era buildings fill spaces left by long-gone synagogues and study halls. The bus pulled up just outside the perimeter of the former ghetto where Asher likely was murdered.

When my guide, Maciej, met me in front of my hotel, he admitted he had been expecting a man twice my age. And indeed, the people I’ve met since who tend to take these forays into pre-Holocaust nostalgia are a generation or two my senior. But to see the degradation and neglect of Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe is to understand that time is of the essence.

My great-grandfather’s legacy is no exception to the corrosive effect of the years. He was born in Przemysl, across the river from the Jewish quarter in a neighborhood called Zasanie, where his father, Gedalia, had been the head of a yeshiva.

Today, the synagogue in Zasanie stands abandoned and deteriorating behind barbed wire. The inn where Gedalia raised a large flock of children was long ago replaced by a blocky apartment complex, painted in primary colors. The Jewish cemetery, just down the highway from the city, has been covered for eight decades with fallen leaves and broken branches, leaving an overgrown warren of blank monuments, the inscriptions worn away by time. The only trace of my ancestors here is some cursive script in a yellowing Austrian record book in the florescent-lit reading room of the Przemysl National Archive.

Shortly after Maciej and I met, we drove 76 kilometers north through heath and woods to Lizhensk, the shtetl where my great-grandfather lived most of his life, now a drab industrial town of 15,000. A relative of mine had marked Asher’s home in red pen on a hand-drawn map of the pre-war town. We parked nearby, in an open-air lot the map indicated had once been the heart of the Jewish quarter.

A drizzle was falling as we plodded down a muddy slope toward the spot indicated on the map. There, on an unpaved path beneath a slate-gray sky was the low shack Asher had built, abandoned and ill-treated by time, its wood planks bent by years, wintery vines bursting through the eaves.

Lizhensk is best known within Poland for the brewery that took its name. To Chasidic Jews, though, Lizhensk is synonymous with Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, a founding father of Chasidism and the town’s most famous resident, Jewish or otherwise.

Chasidim maintain an active relationship with the dead. At midnight on the death anniversary of a great rabbi — and few are greater than Elimelech — it’s said that the souls of the departed descend to their gravesites and carry the prayers of the living up to heaven. Before World War II, Elimelech’s yarzheit drew crowds from across Europe to worship in the cave-like mausoleum where his remains lie.

The Nazis redrew the geography of Lizhensk’s onetime Jewish quarter, erasing the Street of Synagogues from the map. Now, a large, open-air parking lot stands in its place, ringed by a dreary neighborhood with a proliferation of seedy casinos and 24-hour bars. The cemetery is equally unrecognizable. Bulldozed by the Germans, the monuments dragged away as paving stones, it sat empty and ignored for decades. When Jews began to return in the 1980s — survivors and their families as well as Chasidic pilgrims — they dragged what tombstones they could find back to the graveyard, lining them up in arbitrary rows. Year after year, the crowds worshiping at the sage’s gravesite grew.

These days, in late February or early March, according to the fluctuations of the Jewish calendar, the streets fill with Jews in black hats and headscarves, from Brooklyn, Israel and beyond, in anticipation of the 21st of Adar. By the time I learned about the yarzheit, my picture of Eastern European Jewry was colored by its disappearance: magnificent synagogues reduced to rubble and cemeteries knocked over and built upon. Eastern Europe, to me, meant dead Jews. Somehow, I thought seeing some live ones there would be a comfort.

For these Jews, death was a part of life, the sadness married to their joy. It was something less than final.

When I arrived, on the last day of February 2016, the city was awash with pilgrims, their tour buses parked up the street from the cemetery. A series of white pavilions had been set up at the cemetery to accommodate thousands, from those hauling cauldrons for kosher stews to opportunistic salesmen hawking Jewish books from folding tables. A public address system had been set up in one of the tents to blast klezmer music. A pair of Chasidim with a microphone manned the PA system through the night, calling passersby to come “have a l’chaim!” with a swallow of schnapps or whiskey. Gaggles of local reporters had come to observe the oddity; one of the more savvy taxi drivers had posted the word monit, Hebrew for taxi, on his driver’s side windows.

On the site where Rabbi Elimelech is presumed to rest in the rebuilt cemetery, a white concrete structure, a mausoleum, of sorts. was built to accommodate prayers. Inside, a monument enclosed in a metal trellis was piled high with scribbled notes of supplication. Even some non-Jews see the site as holy: While I watched the room fill with Chasidim swaying in prayer, a Polish man with graying hair and far-off eyes entered and bared his head — an odd custom under the circumstances — then fell to his knees, clasping his hands together in silent benediction.

Over time, the town has developed an infrastructure to accommodate the annual influx. The building that had housed the mikveh, or ritual bath, somehow withstood World War II; afterward, a group of Chasidim acquired it and added a second story to form the Hachnasat Orachim of Lizhensk, a guesthouse for pilgrims. Worshipers now could find accommodations and a prayer hall — even a functioning mikveh. Soon, the pilgrimage outgrew that long, low barrack of a building, and just up the hill, a planned extension, a massive A-frame structure covered in Hebrew banners, was nearly complete. Between the two buildings was Asher’s home.

As I walked up, rabid barking erupted behind me. I wheeled around to face the largest German shepherd I’ve ever seen, howling at me murderously from behind a chain-link fence. I resisted a momentary urge to run: German shepherds always have conjured images of Nazi attack dogs for me. Instead, I scowled at the beast and turned back to the house, trying to ignore its bloodthirsty snarls.

In pictures I’d seen of the house, it was far from luxurious, but it was the type of place where you’d expect a penurious rabbi in a Polish backwater to live. At least, it looked habitable. On Google Maps street view, in a picture taken in 2012, a sedan is parked expectantly in the driveway. Seeing the place as it now was came as a gut punch.

The blemish on the doorpost where the mezuzah had once been was the only sign of its onetime inhabitants. The windows had been spray-painted white from the inside — for what reason, I can’t fathom, other than to rob descendants of the satisfaction of peering in. The place looked as if a strong gust of wind might take it down.

Eitan Arom at the abandoned shack built by his great-grandfather. Photo by Eitan Arom

Eitan Arom at the abandoned shack built by his great-grandfather. Photo by Eitan Arom

I wanted to see inside but quickly ruled out the idea of climbing through the loft window, which was missing its frame and panes. Instead, I took to the square below to see if I could learn who had the key. One by one, I sidled up to strangers who were milling about in the drizzle. My reluctant informants didn’t seem to know what to make of me. With a camera around my neck and a yarmulke pinned uneasily to my head as a form of self-identification, I fit in with neither the Chasidim nor the Poles. I managed to win some goodwill by pointing to the tumbledown shack up the hill and saying it once belonged to my great-grandfather. Soon enough, I learned the shack was now owned by the same Chasidim who operated the guesthouse. A less welcome revelation: Before long, they planned to tear it down to build more lodgings for travelers. Pilgrim after pilgrim told me to look for someone named Simha.

Simha Krakovski is a wiry man with a scraggly white beard who directs the guesthouse. I cornered him outside an upstairs prayer hall. As we spoke, sweaty yeshiva students with sparse beards and red faces crowded around to see why Krakovski — clearly a busy man at this time of year — was talking to the only non-Chasidic person in the building. As we spoke, some scholar of great importance swept by with a crowd of hangers-on, pressing us against a wall.

To see the degradation and neglect of Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe is to understand that time is of the essence.

Krakovski indulged me briefly with the story of his early days in Lizhensk, some 25 years ago. “I first came to pray, and when I wanted to use the bathroom, there was no bathroom,” he told me in Hebrew. “I had to pay a gentile woman a dollar to use hers, and it stank.”

I told him who I was and about my ancestor. He told me, yes, they’d acquired the house and were planning to knock it down to expand the accommodations — a dining room, lodgings, he couldn’t be sure, exactly. I asked if the new complex had a name, and why not name it after this pious man, this ghost of mine? He made it clear naming rights could be had — for a price. Come find him tomorrow, he said, and we could talk.

After he left, the young men closed ranks around me, questioning me in English and Hebrew. Did I have money? What did my father do? Is he rich? Suddenly, I felt the flush that was reddening their faces. I was too hot in my wool coat. I stepped outside and back into the drizzle.

Somehow, I’d thought being among these Chasidim would make me feel better about the state of affairs, the vanishing traces of Jewish Europe, the decay and neglect. It didn’t. It made me feel more alone, more abandoned, orphaned by history.

Chasidim pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, in 2016. Photo by Eitan Arom

Chasidim pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, in 2016. Photo by Eitan Arom

I never found Simha Krakovski again. But the next day, I was back inside the guest house, in the office of Krakovski’s colleague, Menashe Lifshitz, a Chasid from B’nai Brak, in Israel. He told me how they’d bought the shack some years back from a Polish woman who lived there, paying her what he assured me was three times the fair price.

When the guesthouse was established, he said, many of the surrounding houses still bore outlines on the doorposts where their onetime inhabitants had fixed mezuzahs. As people got the money to fix up their homes, most were painted over. The blemish where Asher had nailed his mezuzah into the threshold was the last one that remained.

Somehow, I’d thought being among these Chasidim would make me feel better about the state of affairs, the vanishing traces of Jewish Europe, the decay and neglect. It didn’t.

Lifshitz worked out of a small, cluttered office with a twin bed and a small desk on the second story of the former mikveh building. The entirety of the window in the office faces the southeastern wall of my great-grandfather’s home. Before the second story was added, Asher would have had an unobstructed view of the cemetery. He would have been able to watch as the candles burned in Rabbi Elimelech’s tomb through the night.

I asked if I could see the inside of the house. Any other time of year, Lifshitz assured me, it could be arranged. With the pilgrimage in full swing, it would be difficult. He couldn’t be too sure where the key was.

The mikveh building where Menashe Lifshitz kept his office plays a significant part in the story I’ve learned about my great-grandfather.

As it goes, when the Cossacks came during World War I, most of Asher’s family fled. Asher stayed behind so nobody with a chicken or livestock would go hungry for lack of a slaughterer to prepare it. One day, as he was walking outside, a group of Cossacks spotted him and followed. He led them to the mikveh and jumped into the depths, hiding beneath the sacred waters, where he was spared.

But his luck would run out before long. When murderers again came to his town, their fury would be greater and more destructive than the town had ever seen.

The Nazis entered Lizhensk during Rosh Hashanah 1939. On Sukkot, they rounded up the Jews in the market square. A persistent downpour soaked the crowd. The frightened townsfolk were uncertain what fate awaited them — death or deportation, bullets or banishment. Panic ruled.

And Asher was missing.

My understanding of these events is informed entirely by the adolescent memories of his granddaughter, Leah Braude. Leah’s, father, Chaskel Nissenbaum, was a slaughterer and Asher’s student. Later, when Nissenbaum traveled to Germany to ply his trade, returning only for holidays, Asher became something of a father figure to his young granddaughter.

After the war, Leah set down some of her memories from that time in what became the Lizhensk Yizkor Book, a collection of remembrances published in Israel and dedicated to the town’s martyrs. In one of the passages, she described her grandfather, who had “a smile that imparted pleasantness whenever I desired a smile.” This is the last living account of my great-grandfather — but the rest of the Yizkor Book provides a colorful recollection of a vanished world.

The last time Shabbat candles glowed in the windows of Asher’s home, it was earlier in 1939 and the forests surrounding the town were alive with the spirits of the Chasidic imagination.

The cave of Elimelech was just beyond where the town met the woods. The sage’s tomb commanded a view of the Jewish quarter, a slope of wooden homes leading up to Ulica Boznica, the Street of Synagogues.

Lizhensk was a town of a typical European mold: Sledding and ice skating in winter, and sweltering summers. Leading off the market square, where Jewish tradesmen and businessmen mixed with their Polish and Ukrainian counterparts, the synagogue street formed the heart of the Jewish quarter.

Here, Jewish homes abutted schoolrooms and yeshivas, synagogues and study halls. On Shabbat eve, the sexton would knock with his wooden hammer and call, “Jews, Jews, to the synagogue!” as the smell of fried onions and kugels filled the air.

Before the war, Jews and gentiles mixed for good and ill. The Lizhensker Jews were not spared their share of anti-Semitism; Jewish schoolchildren were regularly beaten to cries of “dirty Jew!” Sometimes, one of the nastier teachers would even join in. In spite of all that, here and there friendships grew. Gentiles dropped in on Jewish households for the lighting of Shabbat candles.

What made Lizhensk different from other shtetls, though, was the great rabbi who took its name, and who, more than a century after his death, drew mourners from across the continent to his grave. The custodians of his earthly remains, the Jews of Lizhensk, tended to be an industrious and religious lot, if poor; Asher Arom no doubt fit that mold.

Leah, barely a teenager when war separated her from her beloved Chasid, with his snowy sidecurls and white beard down to his chest, recalled in the Yizkor Book his deep devotion and fervent prayer: “My grandfather made his nights like his days, and studied Torah. His tune in the nights is woven in the depths of my dreams and adds to their sweetness.”

Shortly before death came to the rest of Lizhensk, it visited the home of the ritual slaughterer.

“May the One who consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem offer us a double portion of consolation,” Asher wrote to his son Shmuel in Palestine on the Tuesday after the reading of Parashat Bamidbar in May 1938  — he made a practice of marking the date by the Torah reading. His letters are nearly eight decades years old, but the grief they convey seems fresh, even raw.

Leah’s account had led me to her daughter, Sima Braude Marberg, a kindly woman and a distant cousin of mine who teaches tai chi in the courtyard of her apartment building on a tree-lined street in of Haifa. When I visited, she produced a binder full of old letters in plastic protectors, some of them written in Asher’s practiced, looping script.

The tales from the deathbeds of great Chasidic sages often recount a transformation as their souls hover between this world and the next. These were the terms in which Asher described the death of his wife, born Chaia Rachel Brand, my great-grandmother: “On the seventh day of the month of Iyar” — April 26, 1939 — “early in the morning at 2 a.m., her soul began slipping away from her body until she passed away at 9:30 in the morning,” he wrote to his son in Palestine. “The house was full of men and women.”

The death left her husband disconsolate.

“Rachel, the mainstay of the house, how were you taken to be buried in the ground — where finally your bones could find a resting place — but leave us to our moaning and sorrow?” he wrote. “Who will mend our broken hearts that have been torn asunder and broken into pieces?”

He delivered a eulogy. “By dint of her wisdom she was the principal force, the one who always could advise the proper path, for me and for all those who turned to her for direction,” he told those assembled. “I continued, as is my wont, to expound midrashim and Biblical verses in my eulogy, and the entire congregation broke out in tears, sobbing.”

The author’s great-grandmother Chaia Rachel Arom, with her grandchildren (from left) Simcha, Sarah and Leah Nissenbaum, and her son Mordechai. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

The author’s great-grandmother Chaia Rachel Arom, with her grandchildren (from left) Simcha, Sarah and Leah Nissenbaum, and her son Mordechai. Photo courtesy of Sima Braude Marberg

The community took Chaia Rachel to be buried, and then Asher led evening prayers. Afterward, he wrote, “I was overcome by a terrible burning sensation. The doctor was called, and I was carried to my bed, where I lay without feeling.”

It must have seemed the world was ending. Two of his sons had earlier abandoned Poland for Mandatory Palestine. Now their mother was gone. Bedridden, Asher was found to have a high fever. Death must have seemed near for him, too. But a week later, after the shiva had ended, he recovered, physically if not emotionally: “I now feel well and have returned to work,” he wrote.

“I ask of you to recite Kaddish throughout the entire year, every day without fail,” he bid his son. “And if there is someone with you in your kibbutz who can study mishnayot [talmudic tractates] with you — even just a few mishnayot — then you can say Kaddish afterward in memory of, and for the benefit of the soul of the righteous woman, Chaia Rachel bas Luria Simcha, of blessed memory. And in this merit you and your offspring be successful. May you find material success and enjoy long lives, and raise your son to every good end. Your father, signing with tears.”

The end for the Lizhensk Jews came quickly, before the townsfolk knew it.

In the martyrs’ book and in video interviews with the USC Shoah Foundation, survivors recount with bitter embarrassment a period of obliviousness, of false security, as the forces of destruction massed just beyond the town’s border. Few had radios in their homes, so a doctor who lived in the market square would place his receiver by a window and raise the volume so people could listen in the street below. One survivor, then a girl of 10, remembered standing in the square and hearing Edward Rydz-Smigły, the marshal of Poland’s armed forces, declaring, “We won’t give away even a button — nothing!” Soon, he had given away everything.

The invasion of Poland began on Sept. 1, 1939. By Sept. 3, German bombs had destroyed the railroad tracks in Lizhensk, the only link between the town and the outside world. When crews came to repair their tracks, aerial machine gun fire chased them off.

Jews left the city in droves, only to return hours or days later after finding the surrounding country in a similar state of pandemonium. Those who returned on Rosh Hashanah eve found German troops in town. The Nazis turned the holiday into a carnival of mockery, cutting beards off of men and forcing them to march in circles around a tree.

The Germans were in the mood for arson when they came to Asher Arom’s house on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. Earlier that night, soldiers had barged into the synagogues, demanding volunteers for work. In a surprising act of mercy, they allowed the congregants to evacuate the synagogues, but their intentions were clear. They brought kerosene and kindling. Then they set the buildings ablaze.

The main concern for many of these Jews, it turned out, was not preserving their property or protecting their families, but finding a place to finish praying. With the ashes of the holy places still choking the air, “it was told to them that grandfather had made his house open for the needs of prayer,” Leah recalled in the Yizkor Book.

Some two dozen Jews gathered at the ritual slaughterer’s home. The Nazis quickly learned what was going on. They chased away the prayer quorum but locked my great-grandfather inside. Soon, they returned with bundles of straw and rags soaked in kerosene. Leah’s sister Sarah, then a girl of 16, begged for her grandfather’s life, weeping. The Germans ignored her, intent on burning the 72-year-old alive. Only when a gentile woman who lived next door joined in Sarah’s protest did the Nazis relent.

“She was afraid her home would catch fire, as well,” Leah wrote. “The Germans returned the key to my sister and removed the flammable material from around the house, and grandfather was again saved from certain death.”

On Yom Kippur, we are taught, the ink is still wet in the Book of Life. Even the hosts of heaven shrink in terror as the Creator ponders fates: “The Angels of heaven are dismayed and seized by fear,” the prayer goes. “The great shofar is sounded, and a still, small voice is heard.” Was anyone fool enough, or fervent enough, to blow the shofar in Lizhensk that year? Did anybody hear the still, small voice?

By the Day of Atonement in 1939, the Jews of Lizhensk were afraid to walk in the streets for the harassment it undoubtedly would bring. Those still inclined to pray mostly stayed home and found a quiet corner to do so.

For the Chasidim of Lizhensk, the world to come must have seemed nearer than ever. Yet they were not ill-prepared to meet their end. For these Jews, death was a part of life, the sadness married to their joy. It was something less than final. When sickness or disasters struck, the Lizhenskers would climb the hill of the cemetery to ask the dead to intercede on their behalf. Orphaned brides and grooms would go there to invite their deceased parents to celebrate their wedding. The place abounded with legend.

It was to those old stones that Asher Arom would retire when he could wrest a moment from the demands of work, family and study.

“He would spend hour after hour there cleaning the gravestones and making the inscriptions clearer,” his granddaughter Leah wrote. “When the Messiah comes, each minute will be precious and holy, and it would be a shame if time would be wasted on clarifying the blurred inscriptions.”

Sometimes, he brought Leah to weed the grass around the graves. Once, he explained to her why he did it: “Death is nothing but the natural continuation of life,” he said. “And if we love a life of cleanliness and being cared for, we must give this also to the dead. We must look after the gravestones, just as we look after our home.”

The bitter irony is that his body most likely went up in smoke or was tossed in a mass, unmarked grave.

The circumstances of 1939 gave new meaning to the Yamin Noraim, the Days of Awe — more literally, the days of terror between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “We sat with closed doors and shut windows,” survivor Shaul Spatz recalled in the Yizkor Book. “The silence outside was only interrupted by the occasional thumps of the boots of the German soldiers.”

Soon it was time to erect their sukkot, but the familiar sounds of hammers hitting nails were absent. “That year, all Jewish homes remained exposed without sukkot attached to their walls,” he wrote. “In the Jewish street, fear walks. Apprehension replaced the joy of the holiday.”

You can’t read the vanished inscription on a rain-beaten tombstone. No number of seasons and no amount of research will bring it back.

Then, the rumors of a roundup came true: The next morning, the Jews were to report to the market square.

“I don’t remember which one of our neighbors told us that we had to leave the house,” Spatz wrote. “We fearfully gathered a few of our belongings.”

Hundreds of Jews already had assembled when Spatz arrived. “It was raining,” he recalled. “Our bundles were wet and their weight increased by the moment.”

Death was the punishment for absence, and yet there was no trace of Asher.

Leah had arrived at the square with her parents and sister. Her mother, Gittel, must have been frantic: Simcha, Gittel’s only son, was away at yeshiva in Lublin. Later, Leah’s daughter Sima told me, Gittel had risked a summary execution and snuck back across the San River to see if her boy had come home to find his family, but there was no trace of him, either.

Tension mounted. Anxiety and anguish boiled like puddles in a hard rain. And still Asher was missing.

“We were unable to search for him without being shot,” his granddaughter wrote. “At the last moment, as we organized into rows for the gloomy march, he appeared next to us, calm and filled with family warmth. He was wearing his clean Sabbath clothing, and had his tallis and tefillin bag with him.”

His family scolded him, but, “He smiled and mocked us: What is all the confusion? For it is impossible to believe these murderers. However, perhaps they indeed intend to kill us. Therefore, I went to the mikveh to purify myself, and now I am ready and prepared if it is the will of our Creator, the Creator of the world who determines the fate of man.”

The march began, 2 1/2 miles to the banks of the San River. “The Jews traveled with their heads down, their eyes toward the ground, as if they were guilty of some terrible deed,” another survivor wrote in the Yizkor Book.

When they got there, the Germans unrolled a sheet and commanded the Jews to drop any valuables onto it, on penalty of death. To show they were serious, they shot one of the Jews on the spot. But when the Jews then were ordered across a makeshift bridge, suddenly they were alone; the opposite bank was Soviet territory. Two years before the Wannsee Conference and the decision to implement the Final Solution, the Nazis seemed content with banishment. “So ceased to be one Jewish community in the first days of the war,” Spatz wrote.

Leah and her family headed east, surviving deportation to Siberia and eventually making their way to Israel. But Asher seemed to resign himself to his doom.

The conclusion of his granddaughter’s recollection is as terse as the rest of it is reverent: “When we crossed the San, we continued to wander in the direction of Przemysl. Grandfather was a native of Przemysl, and he decided to remain there until the storm would pass. After we took leave of him, we never met again. He succumbed to the murderous Nazis.”

Was he murdered when the Germans rounded up and killed the entire Jewish population of Zasanie in June 1942? Was he sent to Belzec some two months later along with 12,500 Jewish residents of Przemysl? Or would he have lived to the very end and been one of the 1,000 murdered behind the Judenrat building, during the final liquidation of Przemysl’s Jews, when the shooting went on for six hours?

What became of Asher Arom remains an intractable and deeply frustrating mystery to me. The only evidence of his death is a small, yellowing scrap of paper on which his son Shmuel, my grandfather, scribbled a contradictory series of Hebrew and Gregorian dates, recorded, probably, from phone calls from family and former neighbors after the war.

But how he died doesn’t interest me quite so much as how he lived. I’m still waiting to stumble on the single detail that will bring events from Lizhensk back to life for me, even just momentarily, in a brilliant flash of transplanted memory. I didn’t find it in Poland. Most of my time in Lizhensk was spent ambling from spot to spot, possessed by a sense of detachment, the drizzle dampening my mood. Even the beards and shawls and the prayerful wailing through the night failed to conjure anything profound.

There’s a disconnect I can’t get past. The removal is too great, the violence too jarring, the years too many. Sitting in the main square in Lizhensk, brooding over a notebook and trying to figure out how to feel, it didn’t really land that this was the same square where the Jews had gathered on Sukkot, where Leah had fretted over her grandfather. Would that it had, I might have decided to hike from Lizhensk to the river, following in the path of my ancestor, letting March showers stand in for fall rain. I didn’t. I’m not sure what I would have gained from it.

My ghosts have become better defined since I went looking for them, but they remain no less puzzling, no less tiresome and my relationship with them no less one-sided. They remain ghosts, dead things, dust and forgotten secrets. You can’t read the vanished inscription on a rain-beaten tombstone. No number of seasons and no amount of research will bring it back.

To those planning a foray into their family history  by buying a plane ticket to Poland, my advice is: You might want to reconsider. You will find no answers there. Seeing will bring you no more comfort than knowing. Only emptiness and grief remain for the likes of me, and faint traces of a bitter past. Soon, those too will be gone.

Who will tell survivors’ stories when they’re gone?

David Benson (left) and his brother, Andrew Benson, accompany their grandmother, Holocaust survivor Sidonia Lax, on the 2015 International March of the Living. Photo courtesy of David Benson.

In the spring of 2011, David Benson, found himself walking with his grandmother, Holocaust survivor Sidonia Lax, down the “black path” that once led to the crematorium at the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. It was Lax’s fifth trip with the annual International March of the Living as a survivor, with the Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) teen delegation, his first as part of a large family contingent with the BJE Los Angeles adult group.

As they headed toward the massive circular mausoleum that now stands at the end of the path, holding the ashes of some of the approximately 59,000 Jews and 19,000 non-Jews who were murdered there, Benson, then 35, found himself alone with his grandmother, then 83, for the first time during the trip. Something came over him, something that he can’t explain to this day, and he vowed, “As long as you want to come on this trip, I will come with you. And I’ll come in your stead when you can’t anymore.”

Benson’s sacred promise to his grandmother represents a welcome response to a mounting challenge facing museums, historians and educators as survivors of Nazi-era atrocities grow old and die, taking their firsthand accounts with them: How will their memories be kept alive for future generations? More and more, it is the survivors’ descendants — their sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — who are taking on that responsibility, and beyond them, anyone who hears their stories.

It also is spurring wider efforts to record survivors talking about their exploits for posterity, much in the way the USC Shoah Foundation videotaped more than 50,000 testimonies of Jewish survivors between 1994 and 1999 and how the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is continuing to expand its collection of more than 12,000 audio and video recordings of Jewish survivors.

Benson is one of the many children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of survivors — known within the Holocaust community as Second, Third and Fourth Generation — who are stepping up to tell the survivors’ stories as educational programs, institutions and museums worldwide prepare for a world without survivors.

For the past five years, Benson has left behind his wife, his two young children and his business for a week to accompany his grandmother to Poland. This year, after 10 March of the Living trips, Sidonia is unable to participate. And although David cannot attend this year because of preparations for Sidonia’s 90th birthday and other conflicts, he already has signed up to lead an adult group next year.


“As long as you want to come on this trip, I will come with you. And I’ll come in your stead when you can’t anymore.”

— David Benson, to his grandmother, on a march of the living trip to Poland


He knows his grandmother’s story intimately, how she and her parents had been crammed into a small cellar bunker with 35 people in the Przemysl ghetto in Poland for three months in the fall of 1943. An escape plan for her family failed, and her mother was captured and later murdered. A few days later, her father slipped out of the bunker in search of a smuggled apple for his severely undernourished daughter. He never returned.

Benson has followed his grandmother inside her former barracks in Birkenau, one of six camps in which she was imprisoned, where she’s pointed and said, “This is the bunk where I slept.”

“There’s nothing like someone, firsthand, standing there and saying that,” said Monise Neumann, director of the BJE Center for Teen Experiential Education, who has led 12 trips with the BJE Los Angeles delegation. “You can’t duplicate that.” Still, she said, “David serves as an amazing kind of figure as we transition from firsthand witnesses.”

Seven decades ago, at the end of World War II, approximately 3.8 million European Jews were alive, according to research by demographer Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, among Jews who were in camps, ghettos or hiding under Nazi occupation, only 100,000 worldwide are alive, including 14,000 in the United States, Amy Wexler, public relations manager for The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, said via email.

In Los Angeles, extrapolating from the 1997 Jewish Population Survey, in which survivors self-identified, demographic researcher Pini Herman estimated the current number of living survivors at 3,000, excluding child survivors, those born Jan. 1, 1928, or later.

But even among the living survivors, many are ill or memory-impaired. And others, especially those born toward the end of World War II, survivors by definition, simply were too young to consciously recall their Holocaust ordeals.

In 2016, the BJE Los Angeles March of the Living delegation had only five survivors, the smallest group since it began participating in 1988. And these were mostly child survivors. This year, six are participating, all child survivors.

Over the years, staff members have become the storytellers for the next generation. Freddy Diamond, a survivor who accompanied the group five times over 10 years, used to stand outside Block 11 of Auschwitz, telling students the story of how his brother Leo, a member of a little-known resistance group, was tortured and hanged in front of 15,000 inmates. When Diamond could no longer attend, Phil Liff-Grieff, BJE associate director, stood outside Block 11, holding a photo of Diamond and relating his story. Now Neumann tells it.

“Look, it’ll never be the same,” Neumann said. “But because of the way the stories are being told, people will tell you that they’ll always remember them.”

In more recent years, Neumann and others have recorded survivors recounting their stories at different locations in Poland. Staff members carry these narratives on their digital devices.

Neumann also enlists the help of Third and Fourth Generation survivors who are March of the Living participants. In 2015, Caroline Lowy, then an 18-year-old student at Milken Community Schools, stood near a cattle car on the Auschwitz-Birkenau tracks and talked about how her great-grandfather Hugo Lowy arrived at Auschwitz in April 1944. He was dispatched to a line of men selected to work, but he refused to part with his tallit bag, which a guard grabbed and threw to the ground. When the guard turned his back, Hugo retrieved the bag, refusing to go anywhere without his tallit and tefillin. The guard beat him to death.

Caroline had attended the dedication of the cattle car in 2010, which had been restored and donated to Auschwitz-Birkenau by Hugo Lowy’s son, her grandfather Frank Lowy. She felt honored to retell the story to her peers, though it was difficult. But, she said, “I have a duty as a young Jewish person to keep telling the stories.”

Survivor John Adler and daughter Eileen Eandi speak at the Museum of Tolerance last June. Photo by Jane Ulman

Survivor John Adler and daughter Eileen Eandi speak at the Museum of Tolerance last June. Photo by Jane Ulman

When the Simon Wiesenthal Center opened in 1977, the organization sent survivors into the community to share their stories. And survivors have been speaking at the Museum of Tolerance, the Wiesenthal Center’s educational arm, since it was opened in 1993. Currently, the museum boasts a roster of 45 survivor speakers.

“There really is a difference when it is the survivor standing up and telling their own testimony,” said Elana Samuels, director of museum volunteer services at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

When survivor John Adler, now 93, came to Samuels more than three years ago, he said with tears in his eyes, “I can’t speak anymore. I have to retire.” Samuels suggested they approach his daughter, Eileen Eandi.

Eandi, 67, had wanted to become involved with the museum. Plus, she said, “I wanted to do this for my father. I wanted to be involved in carrying the story forward.”

Eandi researched her father’s experiences, putting together a timeline and selecting photographs, and then worked with Samuels and Emily Thompson, a Museum of Tolerance intern at the time, to present the story in a creative but compassionate way.

In her presentation, Eandi focuses on her father’s growing up in pre-Holocaust Germany as a child and teenager. Adler’s family moved to Breslau in 1933, where they lived on a main street that contained the headquarters of the local chapter of Nazi stormtroopers, who emerged every morning marching and singing. They then hung out in the cul-de-sac where the Adler family’s apartment building stood, forcing Adler to pass them on his way to school every morning.

In 1937, when Adler was 14, the Jewish school he attended closed. No longer able to use its sports field, Adler and his best friend went to a local public field, where one day they were accosted by three Nazi youths on bicycles. Adler and his friend bloodied their noses and the young Nazis hastily retreated. But several visits later, the boys were met by older Nazi youths who punched Adler, breaking his glasses and his bicycle. He limped home.

After this experience, followed by Kristallnacht in November 1938, Adler joined a hakhshara, a kind of kibbutz where he learned agricultural skills necessary for immigration to Palestine.

Adler’s parents left for Shanghai in February 1939, and Adler, not quite 16, left for Palestine on Aug. 30, 1939, two days before Germany invaded Poland. He joined a kibbutz, and at 18, he enlisted in the British army.

At the end of every presentation, Adler rises and answers questions. “The mood changes totally when my father stands up. There’s nothing like having this person in front of you,” Eandi said, adding that people want to hug him, shake his hand and be photographed with him.

Eandi doesn’t know what she’ll do after her father no longer can accompany her, unsure how effective her talk will be without him. But Adler’s plan is that his daughter will speak for him for a long time, followed by his grandson, Matthew Eandi. “I don’t ever want [the Holocaust] to be forgotten,” Adler said.


“The mood changes totally when my father stands up. There’s nothing like having this person in front of you.”

  Eileen Eandi, daughter of a holocaust survivor


Using the experience of Eandi and Adler as her model, Samuels reached out to other Second and Third Generation descendants to form a group called Looking to the Future, which first met in November 2013. And while some of the participants are working with various media to carry forward a parent’s or grandparent’s legacy — including film, photography or memoir projects — Samuels wants to make sure that storytelling remain the centerpiece of these efforts.

“Clearly, the most important program we offer is our witness to truth testimony, where every day we are open, visitors have the opportunity to sit in a room and hear primary testimony,” she said.

As the Looking to the Future group envisions a future without survivors and focuses on building the next generation of speakers, Samuels acknowledged that it’s also important to incorporate compelling video testimony, such as footage from a USC Shoah Foundation interview. “You need that emotional connection,” she said.

These Holocaust eyewitnesses, who are now revered, were shunned in the first two decades after World War II, sociologist Arlene Stein writes in her book “Reluctant Witnesses.” Even those who wanted to speak were told to keep quiet and move on with their lives. Only the survivors — and there were few — who had fought in wartime resistance were celebrated.

But by 1962, as survivors testified at the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann trial, revealing the enormity of the horrors they suffered, the world became more receptive to hearing their stories. Through the 1970s, the Second Generation, whose lives had been overshadowed by the Holocaust, came of age. And as they sought to carve out their own identities amid the social and political upheaval in the United States, they prodded their parents to talk about their Holocaust pasts.

In 1993, the film “Schindler’s List” opened to wide acclaim. “It made the Holocaust more accessible to the general public and it gave the average survivor greater confidence to be able to speak,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Today, survivors are viewed as heroes. They have taken on a mantle of moral authority as, even in their 80s and 90s, they continue to share their narratives, to testify to what really occurred, to thwart Holocaust deniers and to encourage people to love, hope and create a better world.

And Holocaust museums and organizations worldwide are stepping up their programs to provide them with speaking opportunities. Last month, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began a program called “First Person, Conversations With Survivors.” It includes two sessions a week with survivors and continues through Aug. 10.

Survivor Pinchas Gutter answers questions during filming of USC Shoah Foundation’s “New Dimensions in Testimony” project. Photo courtesy of USC Shoah Foundation

Survivor Pinchas Gutter answers questions during filming of USC Shoah Foundation’s “New Dimensions in Testimony” project. Photo courtesy of USC Shoah Foundation

“I tell my story for the purpose of improving humanity, drop by drop by drop,” said Pinchas Gutter, an 84-year-old survivor originally from Lodz, Poland.‭ ‬But for decades after the war, Gutter was silent, afraid to burden his children with his sad stories. Then in 1992, historian Paula Draper approached him in Toronto, where he has lived since 1985, convincing him of the importance of giving testimony.

“I cried. I was shaking. It was very, very difficult,” he recalled. It wasn’t until 10 years later, when Gutter was the subject of a documentary called “The Void: In Search of Memory Lost,” filmed in Poland and directed by Smith before his tenure at the USC Shoah Foundation, that he could talk more easily about his time in the Warsaw Ghetto and in six concentration camps, including Majdanek, where his twin sister, at age 10, and his parents were murdered. “It was cathartic,” Gutter said of his participation in the film. Since then, he has spoken and continues to speak, all over the world.

And now, thanks to a USC Shoah Foundation project called “New Dimensions of Testimony,” Gutter will live on as an interactive survivor, in a life-size, three-dimensional video display in which he presents his story and then answers direct questions, making eye contact with the audience. “That never existed before in any other context before this project,” said Smith, explaining that the project uses automatic speech recognition software to access a databank of more than 1,500 questions that Gutter has previously answered.

But what’s missing in these interactive encounters, Smith explained, are the nuances of conversation, both in body language and in personalization. Still, Smith believes the audience engages with the witness, not the technology. “What we’re trying to create is something that is a little more natural in terms of how we inquire about the past of an individual,” he said.

The project is still in the trial phase, with the interactive Gutter, currently in a two-dimensional format, now on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie as well as Holocaust museums in Toronto, Houston and Terre Haute, Ind. Twelve additional English-speaking Holocaust survivors and one Mandarin-speaking survivor of the Nanjing Massacre, which occurred Dec. 13, 1937, through January 1938, have been interviewed, a process that takes days. Those videos have yet to be edited.

Gutter hopes many more survivors will be able to participate. He doesn’t want the Holocaust to become just an academic endeavor, with possible distortions and inaccuracies. “When you see a documentary, it doesn’t have the same effect on you,” he said. “I’ve watched people interacting with me [on the two-dimensional projected image] and, believe me, the effect it has on them, they will never forget it.”

The USC Shoah Foundation, always has been focused on preparing for a time when there will be no survivors. Over the years, foundation officials have learned, Smith said, to trust audiences with the stories, sharing them on social media and entrusting students and teachers with the testimony. “The more we trust them to own the story, the more likely they are to tell the story to their own generation,” Smith said.

Currently, the USC Shoah Foundation is in the second year of a five-year project called the Visual History Archive Program, in which it will share and augment 53,000 video testimonies, including survivors of other genocides, with scholars, educators, descendants of survivors and organizations. “This gives us an opportunity to work with multiple audiences on figuring out how they best want to use this content or contribute to this content in the future,” Smith said.

Currently, 1,815 USC Shoah Foundation testimonies can be accessed online at vhaonline.usc.edu, and in Southern California, the full collection can be viewed at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), Chapman University and the USC campus.

Additionally, with what Smith called “a tight deadline,” the USC Shoah Foundation is continuing to work with survivors to find other ways of telling their stories, engaging them in the process so that it’s a partnership in figuring out the best ways to enable their voices to live on. “That’s very much at the heart of the mission and something we share with the survivors themselves,” Smith said.

Beth Kean, executive director of LAMOTH and herself a Third Generation survivor, is uncomfortable talking about the loss of survivors. “Yes, that’s a fact,” she said, “but there are hundreds, probably thousands, alive right now, so let’s do whatever we can to engage with them even more.”

Survivors always have been at the heart of the museum’s mission. In fact, it was a group of survivors, who were then calling themselves former German prisoners, who met at Hollywood High School while taking English classes and  founded the museum in 1961. It was to be a place where they could tell their stories and a place that charged no admission.

That hasn’t changed. Today, there are about 35 core survivors who speak in the Sunday Survivor Speaker Series and whenever a school, law enforcement or teacher education group comes to visit.

Over the past several years, the museum has reached out to more survivors, particularly child survivors, and worked to connect all of their survivors with as many students as possible in a variety of what LAMOTH calls “Art and Memory Programs.” In these activities, students and survivors interact in less traditional, more informal settings.

Children and grandchildren of the survivors also play an important role in keeping memories alive.

3G@LAMOTH is a program founded in 2013 by Third Generation survivors Rebecca Katz and Caitlin Kress. The members, who are mostly in their 20s and 30s, work on ways of carrying forward their grandparents’ legacies, meeting regularly for narrative workshops, film screenings and other events.

Marissa Lepor, a 3G@LAMOTH board member, and her grandmother, survivor Sarah Jacobs, in 2015. Photo courtesy of Marissa Lepor

Marissa Lepor, a 3G@LAMOTH board member, and her grandmother, survivor Sarah Jacobs, in 2015. Photo courtesy of Marissa Lepor

Marissa Lepor, 23, a 3G@LAMOTH board member, found strength confronting her life challenges — although not comparable, she pointed out — by learning about her grandparents’ Holocaust travails. Her grandmother, Sarah Jacobs, now 92, was 3 when her mother died in childbirth and 15 when she lost the grandmother who raised her. Three years later, Jacobs was taken to Landeshut and then Peterswaldau, both subcamps of Gross-Rosen concentration camp. After the war, in 1950, she and her husband, Max Jacobs, immigrated to Los Angeles, where they raised a family.

Now Lepor brings together 3G members and other interested millennials to an event she calls Startup Stories, which began in the summer of 2015. There, Lepor briefly recounts her grandparents’ stories and interviews two or three Holocaust survivors about how they dealt with the challenges of rebuilding their war-torn lives.

“Learning from [the survivors] is really a privilege,” Lepor said.

“It’s really important today for the 2Gs and 3Gs especially to be stewards of that history. We have this responsibility to retell our parents’ and grandparents’ history,” Kean said.

Other programs at LAMOTH are aimed at young people who may not have a familial connection to the Holocaust.

L’Dough V’Dough, launched in 2012, brings together students elementary school age and older, as well as adults, to braid and bake challah while sharing stories and sometimes personal artifacts. “It’s transformative for these students,” Kean said.

And in Voices of History, students in various high schools and colleges reflect on and retell survivors’ testimony, which they condense into short films that are used in teacher-training workshops on the Holocaust and in school classrooms.

In the summer of 2015, for example, students in a digital storytelling workshop at Harvard-Westlake School toured the museum and later filmed survivor Dana Schwartz as she related her story. The students then produced an eight-minute, mostly animated film, “The Story of Three Rings,” depicting Schwartz’s life as a 6-year-old confined with her parents in the ghetto in Lvov, Poland, in November 1941. When deportations began four months later, the family hid in a cramped hole. Then, with false papers her father had procured, Schwartz and her mother escaped to a nearby town, posing as non-Jewish Poles until the war’s end.

Students also interpret these narratives through music, photography and theater.

This year, LAMOTH teamed with students from Santa Monica High School’s theater department to present “Voices of Survivors,” in which students performed some of the more chilling scenes from the lives of four survivors. During the eight-week project, the 35 students visited the museum, where they learned about the Holocaust and then met with the survivors in preparation for scripting their scenes, with help from Writer’s Room Productions, and performing them on March 22.

What does it mean for an elder who was a child in the worst possible moment of Jewish modern history to be connected to a child who’s living in a time and place of unprecedented prosperity?” That was the question Samara Hutman, director of Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project and The Righteous Conversations Project, asked.

And that became the genesis of The Righteous Conversations Project, which began in 2011, connecting teenagers with Holocaust survivors. Since then, the two generations have come together at various synagogues and schools for discussions, filmmaking and other creative workshops, and social justice work, which includes relating the survivors’ experiences to current issues and filming more than 60 public service announcements on subjects such as bullying, Islamophobia and racial discrimination.

“The central piece is the reciprocity of the exchange,” Hutman said, explaining that the students then become the stewards of the survivors’ stories, finding a way to honor and carry forward the their words. “There’s love and memory that doesn’t leave.”

Survivor Helen Freeman, 95, who has taken part in Righteous Conversations Project workshops since the organization’s founding, understands the power of these intergenerational encounters.

At the culmination of a summer 2012 workshop, Freeman told participant Trey Carlisle, then a 13-year-old student at Aveson Global Leadership Academy in Altadena, something that she has continued to tell students at subsequent workshops:

“Because of the way you have listened to me and because of the work you have done hearing me,” she said, “I now feel that I can die in peace.”

American Jewish Committee returns to Warsaw

The American Jewish Committee returned to Warsaw after eight years.

AJC on Monday opened a new office in the city dedicated to serving Poland and six other Central European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

“Welcome home!” Andrzej Folwarczny, founder of the Forum for Dialogue and recipient of AJC’s Jan Karski Award, said at an evening ceremony at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Folwarczny, who is not Jewish, has been cooperating with AJC for more than 20 years, organizing study visits of opinion leaders from Poland and the United States. The groups travel to the U.S. to address issues of concern in Polish-American and Polish-Jewish relations. Folwarczny’s best-known project is School of Dialogue, which helps young people living in small Polish towns to learn about their local Jewish community’s history.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, in a statement marking the event, said he sees the depth of symbolism in the fact that the ceremony coincided with the launch of NATO forces’ presence in Poland.

“In the period when Poland, having regained her sovereignty after the collapse of the communist regime, strived to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the American Jewish Committee proved to be our valuable ally,” he wrote in a letter read to gala participants.

Jonathan Ornstein, director of JCC Krakow, told JTA that the opening of AJC’s office in Poland will give a boost to its growing Jewish community and help Poland strengthen ties with the Jewish world. He said the choice of Warsaw is yet another sign that world Jewry recognizes Poland as a growth area and a bright spot in Europe.

“We at JCC Krakow are excited to cooperate with AJC and eager to access their experience in community building as our Krakow Jewish community continues to develop and reemerge after the fall of communism,” he said.

In 1997 David Harris, who has led AJC since 1990, testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of NATO admission for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. AJC was the only Jewish organization to do so.

In a partnership with the Polish government, AJC helped protect and memorialize the site of Belzec, a German death camp located in southeastern Poland, where approximately 500,000 Jews were murdered in less than a year.

Son of Minnesota man, 98, accused of Nazi war crimes, calls for release of evidence

Michael Karkoc, far right, has been accused of being a member in the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, a unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians during World War II. Photo is a screenshot from YouTube.

The son of a Minnesota man, 98, accused by a police court of Nazi war crimes, has called for the evidence against his father to be released.

Andriy Karkoc, son of the Minnesota man first identified by the Associated Press as Michael Karkoc, called on Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the two Democratic senators from Minnesota, to intervene in his father’s case “on legal and humanitarian grounds” and to investigate the source of the evidence against him, the AP reported Saturday. Andriy Karkoc reportedly says the evidence was fabricated by Russian intelligence.

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

“My father was, is, and remains an innocent man,” his son said Saturday.

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

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

Andriy Karkoc said his father served “honorably” with the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, and that he cannot be judged by the actions of other people in the unit.

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

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

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

The Associated Press said that it stands by its reporting of Michael Karkoc.

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

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

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

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

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

The AP first identified Karkoc by name.

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

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

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

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

‘Journey’ a quest for understanding over postwar Polish pogrom

Visitors to the memorial for the victims of the Kielce Pogrom in “Bogdon’s Journey.” Photo courtesy of Menemsha Films.

“Everything good in me comes from my faith.”

The words, spoken by Bogdan Bialek, a Catholic Polish psychologist, are heard at the beginning of a documentary film that confronts one of the bloodiest and most fiercely debated episodes in Poland’s history: the Kielce Pogrom of 1946. By the end of “Bogdan’s Journey,” the faith of its remarkable protagonist feels almost beside the point. Bialek speaks to Jews and Poles alike, bringing them together in the interest of healing.

Unity appears to be a common bond where this tale is concerned. The film’s two co-directors — a Jewish American and a Catholic Pole — spent 10 years assembling footage for the story they thought they were going to tell. Two years into the filming, after encountering Bialek, the documentary that originally was going to be titled “The Burden of Memory” became “Bogdan’s Journey.”

“After we did our second interview with Bogdan, we realized that he is a revelation,” said Michal Jaskulski, the Catholic, who began as the cinematographer and eventually became the film’s co-director and producer. “He can be a voice. He was not presenting either a Polish or Jewish view. He was thinking about people as people, with empathy for everyone.”

“I see this film as an important gateway to understanding something that I think is profound,” added co-director Lawrence Loewinger. “There would be no Jewish life in Poland today if there wasn’t some core of Poles who are interested in fostering Jewish life.”

Jaskulski and Loewinger will take the stage for a Q&A session following a screening of the film at 7 p.m. on March 8 at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. They will be joined by professor Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University. Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland will moderate.

Bialek, no relation to the rabbi despite the similarity of their names, is making his first visit to Los Angeles. He also will join the panel, but Beliak doesn’t expect the film’s soft-spoken title character to hold forth.

“The role of being the center is not what I think he set out to do. I think he meant to be a facilitator, a conduit for people to talk,” the rabbi said. “In many ways, Bogdan has already said his piece; the film in many ways speaks for him. I’m glad he’s coming, but I think he will feel a little superfluous in the conversation.”

As “Bogdan’s Journey” recounts, when the subject is the history of Jews in Poland, and specifically the events of July 4, 1946, the conversation is not always civil. Amid postwar anti-Semitism in Poland, townspeople in Kielce murdered more than 40 Jewish survivors who were trying to take shelter in a building; 40 more were injured. Even with memorials and annual ceremonies in Kielce honoring the dead, there still are suspicions that the Nazis or secret police caused the uprising or that the incident never happened.

The film depicts angry Kielce residents denouncing the suggestion that their home could have been the site of such an atrocity and demanding why anybody would want to “open an old wound.”

Beliak, who has participated in events commemorating the Kielce pogrom, understands the climate in which the film was made. The Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland, a Beverly Hills-based advocacy group, has contributed money to the movie’s Kickstarter campaign, and Beliak calls himself a “fan producer.”

“There are pockets of good will in the Polish community and the Jewish community that want to find a way to come to understanding and reconciliation, and there are pockets of people who, for whatever reason, are highly nationalistic and feel that Poland has been treated shabbily by history,” Beliak said. “Not looking at the historical record is not something that is unique to Poland. So I think this film highlights that part of the Polish population that is largely willing to confront the past and to try to move together to an understanding about it.”

Chief among the “looking forward” faction is Bogdan Bialek, himself, a psychologist who moved to Kielce in the 1970s and made it his lifelong mission to educate people about the pogrom in healing and nonjudgmental ways. The film uses archival footage and photographs and re-creates scenes from the pogrom to chronicle its devastation. In the present, we see attempts at healing as Bialek talks — and listens — to all sides, bringing survivors, relatives of survivors and others from all over the world to Kielce for commemorative events, tours and discussions.

On the anniversary itself, he leads a walk to the Jewish cemetery, where he reads the names of the dead and lights a candle for each of them.

“It’s always very important to remember every person who was murdered that day,” he said in a separate interview. “It’s always very spontaneous and sometimes the program is made very last-minute.”

Bialek has attended screenings of “Bogdan’s Journey” in New York and in Poland, both inside and outside of Kielce. In the discussions that follow, he frequently detects a sense of catharsis among audience members. His own experience watching the film for the first time was quite different.

“For me, of course, it’s different, first of all, because I take so much time on the screen,” Bialek said. “This journey was 20 years for me, so watching it for the first time was more a kind of spiritual experience.”

“Bogdan’s Journey” will screen at 7 p.m. on March 8 at the Laemmle Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.

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.