Romania expected to pass Holocaust restitution bill


Legislation that will make it easier for Holocaust survivors to press restitution claims is expected to pass in Romania’s parliament next week.

Lawmakers said Tuesday they expect the bill, which removes barriers to claiming property, to succeed, Reuters reported.

Much of the Jewish property confiscated in Romania during the Holocaust was later taken over by the Communist government. Despite laws passed after the collapse of Communist rule, few people have been able to claim government-owned property.

A draft law published on the parliament website said that in processing applications for the return of property, priority would be given to “requests by people certified as Holocaust survivors by entities designated by the Romanian state or other European Union states.”

The draft passed the upper house of parliament last week and will go to a final vote on May 4 in the lower house, where it is expected to win overwhelming support, legislators told Reuters.

Romanian president phones terror victim during Israel visit


During his visit to Israel, Romania’s president spoke on the phone to a compatriot who was wounded in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv .

President Klaus Werner Johannis told media on Wednesday of his conversation with the Romanian-Israeli victim of the stabbing attack that occurred the previous day, during a spate of incidents in Tel Aviv that left one victim dead and 10 wounded.

“I talked to him earlier. I wanted to hear from him how he feels,” Johannis, who was in Israel on his first official visit as president when the attack happened, was quoted as telling the news agency Agerpres. “He’s still weak after surgery. He feels relatively well and is in stable condition.”

After visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Klaus said he had invited the victim, who was not named, to visit him in Romania after he recovers.

On Thursday, Johannis also visited Ramallah in the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and spoke of the need to avoid violence and work toward implementing a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We understand that Israel’s security is vital and crucial,” said Johannis, whose country is one of Israel’s staunchest advocates within the European Union, during an address in Israel. “There is no compromising on this. The war of terror requires Romania’s determination and we are members of the alliance against ISIS out of the realization of the need to fight terror,” he said of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Days before Johannis’ visit, the World Jewish Restitution Organization announced it had successfully negotiated additional funds for nearly 1,000 Holocaust survivors from Romania living in Israel. Approximately $1.6 million will be distributed among 947 victims under the new deal, which the WJRO negotiated in multilateral talks, including with the Romanian government.

The deal benefits “the very poorest Romanian Holocaust survivors in Israel — those living at the poverty line,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations.  Talks on restitution of Jewish-owned property without heirs in Romania are ongoing.

On Tuesday, Romania took over from Hungary the rotating chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – an international body working to commemorating the genocide. Some 750,000 Jews lived in Romania prior to the Holocaust; approximately half were killed. Today, only a few thousand Jews live there.

From a Romanian village to Jewish Los Angeles


The journey to Judaism was a long one for Kinga Dobos. She grew up in a poor village in Romania and struggled to fit in as a teenager in Hungary. She worked for years as an au pair in Great Britain and the United States, and it was the Jewish families that took her into their homes and welcomed her into their communities that persuaded her to entwine her destiny with theirs.

The slender 39-year-old redhead speaks with a slight British accent, which she picked up while studying English in London. She studied Jewish history at Santa Monica College and in Rabbi Neal Weinberg’s “Judaism by Choice” program, and converted in 2011 at American Jewish University. 

“I just felt culturally Jewish, and I wanted to be legitimate,” she said. “Nearly everybody I worked for in Los Angeles was Jewish, or one parent was Jewish. I was part of their lives, and I became fond of their culture. The emphasis on education. The close-knit family. No matter what your economic status is, you have an obligation to help others, because there’s always someone who is worse off than you are. And these were not everyday observations that I grew up with.”

She lives in Playa Del Rey, works as a video editor, and is active in Sinai Temple’s Atid young professionals group. She’s also writing a book of short stories based on her life. On Shavuot, she’ll have a bat mitzvah at Sinai Temple. 

Dobos was born in Transylvania, a beautiful and historic region of Romania that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. Her family is Hungarian, and her Romanian classmates teased her about her accent. Despite the economic hardships during the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, she has fond memories of childhood in the industrial city of Brasov.

“It’s built around a mountain. We have very nice ski resorts there. My childhood was [spent] outdoors a lot. We were doing sports in the winter and going hiking and camping in the summer,” she said.

Her parents held odd jobs through the 1980s; her mother was a salesperson and a cleaner, her father was a house painter and held a government job overseeing heating for the city, even though the city had no heat.

“I remember, he was playing a lot of chess with his colleague. It was kind of a phony communist job. The one good thing about that job is, we went to his job once a week — my mom, my brother and I — and could shower there, because otherwise we had no warm water,” she said. “Our electricity was sporadic, we had it for a few hours at night, but we didn’t know when we would have it and for how long.”

Dobos’ relatives were all Christian, and she enjoyed attending church, where she could listen to Bible stories and speak freely with her Hungarian friends.

In 1989, in the months leading up to the fall of the communist regime, her parents escaped Romania and went to Budapest, Hungary. She and her brother stayed behind with their grandparents. The family reunited eight months later, after the revolution and Ceausescu’s execution. Dobos, then 14, boarded a train to Budapest carrying a duffel bag of clothes, a sewing machine and the dream of a better life.

“I was so idealistic and so naive,” she said. “In Romania, we always had to fight for necessities, for food and water and electricity. I thought once we moved to Hungary all of our problems were going to be solved.”

But life in Hungary wasn’t so easy. People viewed Transylvanians as less intelligent, and Dobos was again teased for her manner of speech.

“It’s as if I had a Southern accent and moved to California,” she said. “My classmates would mock my dialect. Every time I tried to talk, someone would repeat what I said, and it hurt my feelings.”

With her parents each working two jobs, and a guidance counselor who she says discriminated against her, she fell through the cracks at school. Despite her straight A’s, she was placed in a trade program rather than an academic one. She hated her classes, but graduated from secretarial school while working at a warehouse with her brother. She also volunteered at a Hungarian TV station, A3, where she took call-in requests for a music video show. After a few months, the station went bankrupt and she moved to England to be au pair.

She first worked for a family in Essex, but it wasn’t a good fit. Then she moved in with a Jewish family in London and lived there for a year. They had three daughters, and the father’s parents were Holocaust survivors. They kept a kosher home and asked her to keep kosher, even when she was outside the house. It was her first time learning about Judaism, she said.

“When I grew up and someone would say ‘Jew,’ people would usually whisper that word. So when I was very little, I thought maybe Jew was a dirty word,” she said.

The mother of the family tutored Dobos in English, and, after a year, she spoke fluently. She signed up with a Hungarian nanny agency and moved to Los Angeles to be close to the film industry. Her first job was in Huntington Beach, working for a divorced man with two young children, but after a few weeks she quit.

She answered a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times and found work with Dena Kleeman, a Jewish divorcee with two children and a law firm in Beverly Hills. 

“I hadn’t seen such a confident and assertive person before. I loved working for her. She was really good at balancing being a mom and working really hard. I hadn’t seen that in Romania or Hungary,” she said.

After her visa expired, she moved back to Hungary but soon got a call from Kleeman. Her boyfriend, who was also divorced with two children, needed a live-in nanny. Dobos worked for his family for two years, as well as for Kleeman’s sister, Maura Resnick, while studying at Santa Monica College. She transferred to UCLA to study film production, graduating in 2005.

“She worked to support herself. She really did it all on her own,” Resnick said. “I have such incredible admiration for that. I think she’s such a strong person. And she’s really a self-made person.”

She still helps Dena and Maura’s parents, Charles and Annette Kleeman, both 91, with household chores and errands.

“She’s a very intelligent and kind and loving and generous person, and a terrific help to us,” Annette Kleeman said.

After graduating from UCLA, Dobos adapted two books into feature screenplays and worked as a producer’s associate on a documentary film. 

When the recession hit, she went back to Hungary to visit her parents and spend time with her brother and his children. But after 13 years of living in the U.S., she said, she was stunned by the levels of misogyny and anti-Semitism she encountered in Eastern Europe.

“I realized I cannot live in that culture anymore. I’m too American and too Jewish,” she said, laughing. “There’s a great saying I heard: The mind that expands to new awareness can never go back to its original state.”

Dobos is struggling to make it in the cutthroat film industry. She’s writing a memoir and is considering going to law school. She’s dating a Jewish man and hopes to start her own family soon. She said her parents have supported her in every decision she’s made.

“When I fast on Yom Kippur, my mom fasts with me in Hungary. That’s the sweetest thing ever. She’s not Jewish. She’s very religious, she’s Protestant, but she wants to be with me in spirit.”

Firebomb hits former synagogue in Romania


A firebomb thrown into a former synagogue in central Romania caused minor damage, a local Jewish watchdog group said.

The firebomb was aimed at the wooden part of the floor of the former synagogue of Sighisoara, the Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism in Romania said in a statement Tuesday about the recent attack.

The building, which has been converted into a cultural center, is in proximity to the site of an earlier attack in Ploiesti, near Bucharest, where a local synagogue’s windows were shattered when vandals pelted them with stones, wrote the watchdog group’s director, Maximillian Marco Katz.

Police are investigating both incidents.

Katz wrote that violence against Jews and buildings associated with Jews is rare in Romania. He added that “growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, the Hungarian extremism imported into Transylvania and the general growth of the anti-Semitism in Europe” may have triggered the attacks.

Survivor: George Berci


In October 1942, George Berci, then George Bleier, was ordered to report for forced labor. Along with 1,600 young men, the 21-year-old was transported from Budapest to a camp near Bereck, Hungary, near the Romanian border. During the day, in his assigned group of 400 men, George was marched into the mountains, more than an hour’s walk, where he dug anti-tank trenches from sunup to sundown, especially arduous in winter when the ground was frozen. At night he slept with his group in a large, cold cement bunker, using small branches he had collected in the forest as a mattress.

On one occasion, for some arbitrary transgression, Hungarian guards tied his hands behind his back and hoisted him up with a rope that had been thrown over a heavy branch. His feet lifted off the ground, and his arms bore all his body weight. George believes he became semi-conscious. “I couldn’t lift my arms for days,” he said. “It was terrible.” 

George Berci was born on March 14, 1921, in Szeged, Hungary, the only child of Alexander and Ella Bleier.  The following year, his father was hired as the assistant conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the family, including George, his parents, maternal grandparents, uncle and great-aunt, moved into a two-room apartment in Vienna.

George’s father left for India in 1924, while the family remained in Vienna. George was made to begin violin lessons at age 4, and by the time he was 10 he was playing concertos. 

In 1935, the political climate in Vienna shifted to the right. With no explanation, George’s non-Jewish friends stopped associating with him. And in his public school classrooms, he and other Jewish students were relegated to the back row. 

That same year, his maternal uncle, who supported the family, lost his job with Electrolux in Austria, but was offered a position in Stockholm. George’s grandmother, however, vetoed the idea, and in 1936 the family moved to Budapest. George’s parents were divorced by this time.

At 16, forbidden to attend public high school, George was accepted into a private Jewish school. He financed his education by washing cars on weekend evenings, even in winter, and graduated in 1939. 

Unable to attend university, George apprenticed for one year in an electrical shop and then worked for two years as a mechanical engineer.

George’s uncle was called into the military around 1940 and later killed in Russia. His father disappeared in 1941. 

After spending more than two years at the labor camp near Bereck, wearing the same clothes throughout, George and the other prisoners were taken by train in January 1944 to a large railway center near the Polish-Czechoslovakian border. There, they unloaded ammunition from German trains and transferred it onto trucks. 

According to George, they handled some highly explosive ammunition, casually tossing it to one another, assembly-line style. “What I remember is that the guards became very nervous. But I was coming to this phase in my life where I don’t care about life,” he said. 

In June 1944, George and the remaining prisoners were put on a train headed to a concentration camp. The train, however, stopped to change engines in Budapest, where American forces were dropping bombs.  The Hungarian guards, fearing the train would be hit, suddenly disappeared. “We disappeared, too,” George said. 

Through Catholic cousins living in Budapest, George tracked down his mother, who was living in a “yellow star” apartment. George moved in.

Soon after, while looking for work, George was approached by a man who recognized his Viennese accent and led him to a hideout for the Hungarian underground. They produced false papers — such as birth certificates and employment papers — for Jews hidden throughout the city, and George was tasked with delivering these documents. “It was dangerous work,” he said.

During this time, Budapest’s Jews were forced into a ghetto. With his Red Cross papers, George was able to enter the ghetto, find his mother and bring her to his apartment. 

Late in December 1944, with the Russian army surrounding Budapest, the Germans couldn’t transport Jews to concentration camps. Instead, they marched them to the Danube River, lined them up on its shore, and machine-gunned them, letting the bodies fall into the water.

In early January, fearing he and his mother would starve, George announced, “We are going to Szeged.” They went to a station for Russian military trains, the only available means of transportation, and, George, wearing a Red Cross armband and carrying a doctor’s bag, offered a soldier there two packages of sulfa drugs in exchange for a ride. Because gonorrhea was rife among the Russian military, his bribe was accepted. 

On the train, George told his mother he wanted to be a symphony conductor.  “You’ll be a doctor,” his mother answered. And on Jan. 5, 1945, with the Russians controlling the city, George enrolled in the University of Szeged’s medical school, changing his name to Berci to deflect anti-Semitism. To finance his education he cleaned instruments in the physiology department. 

In Szeged, George’s mother met and married Frank Breszlauer. 

George graduated from medical school summa cum laude in 1950. He then worked as a resident at the University of Szeged’s surgical clinic.

In 1954, George became an assistant in surgery at Postgraduate School of Medicine in Budapest, where he was very interested in experimental surgery and instrumentation. 

Then, in October 1956, the Hungarian Revolution broke out. Two weeks later, a large Soviet force entered the city, opening fire on demonstrators in Parliament Square and severely injuring 250 of them. Casualties were taken to a hospital, where George and other surgeons operated day and night. 

After that, George decided to leave Hungary. On Nov. 26, 1956, George, his mother and stepfather boarded a train, disembarking one stop before the Austrian border. They came to a cornfield where, in a group of 30 people, they set out on a three-mile walk in rain and snow to the border, which was guarded by Russian soldiers. 

After they’d walked for a mile, falling to the ground whenever searchlights scanned the area, George’s mother gave up, insisting on returning to Budapest. But George dropped everything he had, including a small briefcase with some money, and, although he was barefoot because his shoes had become stuck in the mud, he carried her the rest of the way, an all-night journey. 

They made their way to Vienna. There, George was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship and promised a job in Boston. But, as he believed the United States and Russia were on a collision course, he opted to go “as far away as possible from the next war” and chose Australia. 

George settled in Melbourne, working as a technician and studying English, memorizing 100 words a day. Then, from 1957 to 1962, he joined the surgery department of two Melbourne hospitals, continuing his work in experimental surgery and optical technology. 

In 1968, George came to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as a visiting professor and never left. Today he is recognized as the pioneer who developed the techniques that serve as the foundation of all endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeries.

At 92, he is senior director of Minimally Invasive Endoscopic Research at Cedars-Sinai. In addition to teaching and researching, he enjoys classical music. He has been married to Barbara (Weiss) Berci since 1988 and is the father of three children from previous marriages — Kitty, born in 1950; Winton, 1955; and Nina, 1969. He has six grandchildren.

George said he doesn’t “beat his chest” that he’s a survivor. And he doesn’t talk about the Holocaust much, except to his children and grandchildren. “I’m very keen that the next generation should know about it,” he said.

Survivor: Eva Katz Brettler


Arrow Cross soldiers banged on the front door. Eva Brettler, then Eva Katz, hid behind her grandmother as the soldiers, members of Hungary’s fascist party, ordered Eva’s grandmother and aunt to quickly pack and prepare to leave. “Chavelah, you have to listen and you have to hide,” Eva’s grandmother told her, adding that she was to make her way at nightfall to the rabbi’s house, where his caretaker still lived. “I don’t want to stay alone,” Eva protested, crying. But she dutifully found a hiding spot amid the tall corn stalks where she watched the soldiers lead away her grandmother and aunt, along with other Jews of Tasnad, Hungary. Eva was 7; it was 1944.

Eva was born Nov. 29, 1936, in Cluj, Romania, the only child of Alexander and Margit Katz. Her father worked for a printing company and her mother was a hat maker. They were very religious and lived comfortably. 

In 1940, however, Hungary reannexed Northern Transylvania, and Cluj, Romania, became Kolozsvár, Hungary. Persecution of Jews increased, and in 1941 Eva’s father lost his job. The family moved to Budapest, where they lived in one room of a three-room apartment managed by a Mrs. Grosz. 

Eva was later sent to stay with her grandmother and aunt in Tasnad, Hungary (now Romania), in a beautiful country home with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. 

A few days after the roundup of Tasnad’s Jews, in April 1944, Eva’s father, who had been granted a furlough from his work camp, fetched her from the rabbi’s house. As they walked separately to the railroad station, two Hungarian policemen arrested him. She returned to the rabbi’s house, where her father, who had been beaten, came for her the next day. This time they safely reached the station. 

When they arrived in Budapest, Eva ran all the way to the apartment. “I wanted the comfort of my mother,” she said. Her father returned to the labor camp. 

As Budapest’s Jews were being relocated to designated apartment buildings, Eva’s mother obtained false papers for them. When the Swedish safe house they lived in was being evacuated, Eva’s mother hid her in a straw basket atop an armoire. A few hours later, her mother, who had ducked into an elevator shaft, retrieved her. As they quietly left the building, a Hungarian policeman standing nearby said, “Move very quickly. I don’t see you.” 

They went to the apartment of an acquaintance’s brother. The next day, Eva’s mother enrolled her in school under her false name, Eva Nagy. But as they returned to the apartment, two men stepped from behind a kiosk and arrested them.

They were eventually taken to a brick factory on the outskirts of Budapest. They had only lightweight summer clothes, and Eva’s mother was wearing heels. They had little food.

A short time later Eva and her mother were lined up and sent on a march with other prisoners. Most days Eva rode in a wagon with other children, meeting her mother at each night’s stopping place. One morning, Eva’s mother, whose feet ached from walking in heels, begged to ride in the wagon. Instead, she was taken away. A short time later Eva heard gunshots. 

That evening, Eva waited and waited for her mother. Another woman comforted her, holding onto her all night long as Eva saw lights from falling bombs flash in the sky. “I tried not to cry too much. I was afraid the woman would get rid of me,” Eva recalled. 

Soon Eva and the woman, along with other marchers, were loaded into cattle cars and taken to Ravensbruck, a women’s camp in northern Germany. Eva was separated from the woman.

The prisoners were ordered into a room and told to undress. Eva, who was raised Orthodox, covered herself with her hands. An SS woman then struck her with a whip, forcing her to drop her hands. Her hair was shaved and she was given a uniform. 

As Eva exited the room looking bewildered, another woman befriended her. The woman, whom Eva believes she called Tante, “aunt,” shared a top bunk with her. She also prayed with her, told her stories and kept her arms wrapped around her. During the day, Eva stood in line for roll call for hours at time, frozen and petrified.

One night, Eva heard a baby cry and learned a woman had miraculously given birth in the barracks. A few nights later, Tante died. 

In March 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, Eva and other prisoners were shipped to Bergen-Belsen. “All you could see was a tremendous amount of corpses,” Eva said. She was assigned a barracks, but, with no available beds, she slept on a concrete floor. During the day, prisoners were marched around aimlessly in the extreme cold. 

Behind the kitchen was a fenced-off area where potato peels were stored for the pigs. Some women enlisted Eva to crawl under the fence to steal food for them. As Eva exited with her hands full of peels, the women immediately grabbed them from her. On subsequent forays, she ate her peels before crawling back out.

One day, with the bright sunlight obscuring her vision, Eva heard a motor stop nearby, frightening her. Then a British soldier suddenly picked her up and gave her a chocolate bar. It was April 15, 1945, and the camp had been liberated. 

Eva was sick with typhus. On her way to the hospital she saw her former landlady, Mrs. Grosz, who offered to take her to Budapest. Eva said she was certain her parents were dead and was going to Sweden. She arrived there in July 1945 and lived in an orphanage. 

More than two years later, Eva’s father, who returned to Budapest, discovered through Mrs. Grosz that Eva had survived. In January 1947, Eva was reunited with her father, who had remarried and had a baby son. 

Eva attended an Orthodox school and then public school. After eighth grade, she began working in a factory and later studied chemistry at night school. 

In October 1956, sensing growing anti-Semitism with the Hungarian Revolution, Eva decided to leave. She escaped across the border at Bosarkany and made her way to Vienna, where she sent for her father and stepmother and her brother. 

Eva quickly received a visa and arrived in the United States in January 1957, settling in California. Her parents and brother followed three months later.

During Shavuot, Eva was introduced to another survivor, Marten Brettler, and they married on Aug. 11, 1957. They have four children — Rodney, born in 1958; Jeffrey, 1961; Linda, 1963; and Sandra, 1966 — and nine grandchildren.

Eva returned to school, obtaining a degree in psychology from UCLA. She was a social worker for Jewish Family Service from 1983 to 1996. 

Marten died on Dec. 24, 1987. “He was so proud of me. He helped me grow up in ways I didn’t have when I was younger,” Eva said.

Eva speaks regularly at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, at the Museum of Tolerance and in various schools. 

“I couldn’t have survived without the kindness of total strangers. I try to practice that in my life,” Eva said.

German university fires professor for denying Holocaust


The University of Aachen in Germany fired historian Vladimir Iliescu for claiming the Holocaust never happened in Romania.

The institution  “cancelled the teaching contract” of Iliescu “immediately after statements he made to the Romanian Academy became known,” a spokesperson for RWTH Aachen told JTA on Tuesday, adding that the university was “appalled” by his words.

“In Romania there was persecution against Jews, 20,000 Jews died, but this is not a Holocaust,” Iliescu said last month during an address organized by the Romanian Academy in Bucharest.

The 87-year-old Iliescu was temporary professor of Ancient History at RWTH Aachen in 1985 and was appointed supernumerary professor in 1993.

“In recent years, he delivered survey lectures on Eastern European history without remuneration,” RWTH Aachen wrote in a statement.” As far as the University knows, Iliescu does not have any publications on the topic of the holocaust.”

“The Holocaust in Romania is a huge lie,” Iliescu said at his Bucharest lecture, which was filmed. “The Holocaust happened in Germany and Hungary, since only from these countries Jews were sent to Auschwitz. However, all the Jews who were deported to Transylvania by Marshal Antonescu returned home and lived an almost normal life.”

Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1944, had a Jewish population of about 757,000 before World War II, when “extreme anti-Semitic tendencies escalated,” according to Yad Vashem.

The Israeli Holocaust museum's website says that Romanian and German troops murdered 380,000-400,000 Jews in areas controlled by Romania during the rule of Ion Antonescu.

Romania issues stamp for shul’s 130th anniversary


Romania issued a postage stamp marking the 130th anniversary of the Great Temple of Radauti in the country’s north.

Romfilatelia, the Romanian philately company, announced the introduction of the stamp ahead of Aug. 18, the anniversary of the synagogue's 1883 inauguration in honor of Franz Joseph I, Austro-Hungarian emperor who ruled the area of Radauti, or Radautz in German.

Radauti had more than 4,700 Jews who made up 35 percent of the total population in 1941, the year local Romanians staged a pogrom, according to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Romania.

Many of them were killed along with 380,000 – 400,000 Jews who were murdered in Romanian-controlled areas during the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. The country currently has a Jewish population of a few thousand people, according to the European Jewish Congress.

The synagogue is a massive building constructed in Moorish style with two tall, domed towers reminiscent of an Orthodox cathedral, and features three arches at the entrance supported by four columns.

The postage stamps show a picture of the building and a Star of David and a menorah.

On restitution, a rundown of where they stand in Eastern Europe


The following is a rundown of some Eastern European countries and where they stand on restitution:

Poland: Has not enacted any form of private restitution or compensation for an estimated $30.5 billion worth of property confiscated by the Nazis, then the communists. The Jewish share of claims on the properties is estimated at 20 percent to 27 percent. Poland has a burdensome process for restitution of Jewish communal property. As of Aug. 31, of the total of 5,504 authorized claims filed by Jewish communities, the pertinent Regulatory Commission had adjudicated (entirely
or partially) only 2,289 claims. Most properties returned are the least valuable and require a considerable amount of investment for maintenance to comply with Polish preservation law.

Romania: More than 200,000 private property claims were submitted pursuant to the 2003 deadline set under Romania's private restitution law. As of 2010, only some 119,000 of the claims had been adjudicated; of the adjudicated claims, in fewer than half was some sort of remedy proposed. As of 2010, only 5 percent (or about 10,300) of the more than 200,000 claims were determined to be eligible for compensation (but compensation has not yet necessarily been received). The fund created to provide compensation has been suspended and critics have called the restitution process corrupt.

Latvia: Three hundred communal properties have never been returned or compensated. Since the failure of a 2006 bill at an estimated value of 32 million LVL, or $60 million, nothing has been accomplised despite many new attempts and prime ministerial commissions to study the issue.

Some of the most improved countries on the issue are Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Serbia.

Lithuania: After considering several versions of restitution legislation, in 2009, the government proposed a compensation law based on what it claimed was 30 percent of the official value of those 152 properties. In June 2011, Lithuania's parliament approved the Law on Good Will Compensation for the Real Estate of Jewish Religious Communities authorizing the payment of 128 million litas (approximately $53 million) from 2013 to 2023 to compensate the Jewish community for communal property seized by the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes. The law provides that the compensation is to be used for religious, cultural, health, sports and educational needs of Jews in Lithuania. Under the law, compensation funds will be transferred to a foundation designated by the government that will be administered by a governing body representing the Jewish Community in Lithuania, the Religious Jewish Community of Lithuania and other Jewish religious, health, cultural and education organizations. The law also provides that 3 million litas (approximately $1.25 million) will be made in one-time payments in 2012 “to support people of Jewish nationality who lived in Lithuania and suffered from totalitarian regimes during the period of occupation.”

Czech Republic: In November, the lower house of Parliament approved a plan to return billions of dollars worth of communal property that was confiscated from Jews and Christians by previous communist governments. According to the bill, the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities is set to receive $500,000 a year over 30 years.

Serbia: Serbia passed a private property restitution law in 2011. Although it excludes property seized during the Holocaust — a condition the Jewish community leaders expect to be modified — the law also notes that heirless property of Holocaust victims will be addressed in separate legislation.

Naming Holocaust denier government minister concerns Romanian Jews


The appointment of a Romanian lawmaker who denied his countrymen’s complicity in the Holocaust “seriously concerns” Romanian Jews, a community leader said.

Dan Sova was appointed minister for parliamentary affairs on Monday. In March, Sova was filmed saying that Romanians never participated in the persecution of Jews. The Social Democrat lawmaker added that only 24 Jews, not thousands, had died during the violent Iasi pogrom, which he attributed to the German army. Sova later retracted his statements.

In an interview for the Romanian B1 television network on Monday, Aurel Vainer, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, said that Sova’s appointment made him “want to wear a black armband” as a sign of mourning.

Historians say some 15,000 Jews from Iasi were murdered in the streets or asphyxiated in “death trains” in June and July of 1941. Some 250,000 Romanian Jews were murdered by 1945. Romania has a Jewish population of slightly over 6,000, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Sova’s promotion “raises questions” in light of his past statements, Vainer said. “It is hard to accept that a young, educated man would claim the Holocaust never happened in Romania,” added Vainer, himself a Romanian lawmaker.

Vainer also said that Sova’s promotion “did not send the correct message to young people.”

Aly Raisman takes a gold and bronze


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam at the London Olympics.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., took the gold on Aug. 6 with a score of 15.6 to edge Catalina Ponor of Romania and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, the silver and bronze medalists.

Earlier in the day, Raisman won the bronze on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. She had finished fourth behind Ponor, who fell off the beam in the finals. After the Americans’ protest, the re-scoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tiebreaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman had helped Team USA take the women’s team gold — the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman won the floor exercise in the team competition while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagilah.”

Also on Aug. 7, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Holocaust survivors beauty pageant crowns Romanian winner


A beauty pageant for Holocaust survivors was held in Haifa, featuring female survivors walking down a red carpet and sharing details of their travails during World War II.

Fourteen women, aged 74 to 97, participated according to news reports. Romanian native Hava Hershkovitz, 79, was crowned the winner.

Organizers called the event a celebration of life, but critics denounced it as trivializing the horrors of the Holocaust.

Shimon Sabag, who organized the event, said the 14 finalists had been chosen from hundreds of applicants based on their personal stories and later roles in their communities in Israel, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“It’s not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest,” the silver-haired Hershkovitz said, according to the Associated Press. “But we’re all doing it to show that we’re still alive.”

Collete Avital, chairwoman of the umbrella group the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said ““It sounds totally macabre to me,” according to the AP. “I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading [survivors] with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful.”

Conference calls on Romania to acknowlege WWII war crimes


A conference focusing on Romania’s Holocaust-era war crimes in Ukraine and Moldova called on Romania to acknowledge and apologize for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

The conference, which ended Wednesday, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, was convened to bring the full scope of World War II Romania’s fascist state-sponsored genocide to light. The conference examined Romania’s role in the Holocaust in Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union, particularly Moldova.

Convened by Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Feldman and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, which Feldman serves as president, the conference brought together some 70 participants from Ukraine and Moldova comprising a mix of Holocaust survivors, scholars and public figures.

The Romanian ambassador to Kiev initially accepted the conference’s invitation but at the last moment declined to attend. There was, however, official representation by the embassies of Austria, Azerbaijan and Israel, as well as lawmakers from Ukraine and Moldova.

“We are not demanding financial compensation from Romania,” Feldman said. “They cannot bring their victims back to life. Even though the Romanian ambassador did not attend the conference, we are pushing forward with this process until justice is achieved.”

The conference adopted a series of three resolutions that Feldman called “a small first step of a long journey before us.”

The resolutions call on Romania to recognize publicly and officially its role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the territories of present-day Ukraine and Moldova; to issue a formal apology to the Jewish communities of Ukraine and Moldova; and to play an active role in cooperating with Ukrainian and Moldovan governmental and nongovernmental organizations in programs designed for memorializing Holocaust victims of Romania-occupied territories. 

Next to the Nazis, Romania was responsible for the deaths of more Jews during the Holocaust than any other German-allied country. During World War II, the Nazi-allied Romanian government was complicit in the murder of approximately 400,000 Jews, both on Romanian soil and in villages and forests throughout Ukraine and Moldova.

Holocaust exhibition repeatedly stolen in Romania


Someone keeps stealing an exhibition about Jewish heritage and the Holocaust in Romania from a subway station in the country’s capital city.

The exhibition, created by Israeli photographer Shani Bar On and Austrian-born journalist Emil Rennert, was sponsored by the Austrian Culture Forum and installed on the walls of a major Bucharest subway station June 11, but within 24 hours all of its 22 text and photo panels had vanished.

Bar On and Rennert re-printed the panels and re-installed the exhibition on Wednesday. By Friday, 12 of the panels were again missing, despite improved security promised by the subway management.

Rennert said there was no evidence of anti-Semitic graffiti. “We have no idea who took them,” he told JTA. Rennert said no formal police investigation had been started yet, but that the Austrian Culture Forum would be following up the situation.

The exhibit is based on Rennert and Bar-On’s book “The Jewish Bucovina—Clues.” It features photographs of Jewish heritage and life today in northern Romania, as well as interviews and stories with Holocaust survivors detailing the deportation of Romanian Jews to camps and ghettos in Transnistria, part of Ukraine, during the Holocaust.

Before being mounted in the Bucharest subway station, the exhibition had been shown without incident at the University of Vienna and other locations in Romania and Austria.

High percentage of Romanian teens reject Jews, Roma, gays, Muslim as neighbors


One third of Romanian teenagers would be opposed to living next to Jewish neighbors according to a poll that found even higher levels of prejudice directed at Roma, Muslims and gays.

Three quarters of respondents said they did not want gays living next door, according to the poll, reported Friday by Associated Press and carried out last November.

Two thirds rejected being neighbors with Roma and AIDS sufferers, while 42 percent rejected Muslim neighbors and 34 percent rejected Jewish neighbors.

The poll, commissioned by the Soros Foundation, questioned 5,680 students between the ages of 14 and 18 and has a margin of error of 2 percent.

Holocaust victims reburied in Romanian Jewish cemetery


The remains of dozens of Jews killed by Romanian troops during the Holocaust and found in a mass grave were reburied in a Jewish cemetery.

The unidentified remains of at least 40 Jewish victims were reburied on Monday in the Jewish cemetery of Iasi in northeastern Romania.

The bodies were discovered by archeologists near the village of Popricani last November, according to reports. The victims were killed there in the summer of 1941. More than 15,000 Jews were killed in Iasi during pogroms in 1941.

Five American and British rabbis officiated Monday at a memorial service for the unidentified victims.

Peres visiting Bulgaria, Romania to boost relations


Israeli President Shimon Peres is on a state visit to Bulgaria and Romania aimed at bolstering bilateral relations with the two Balkan nations.

In the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Wednesday, Peres was presented with the country’s highest state decoration, the Stara Planina Award.

Peres thanked Bulgarian President Giorgi Purvanov for Bulgaria’s refusal to deport its nearly 50,000 Jews to death camps during the Holocaust, even though Sofia was a Nazi ally.

Peres’ talks with Purvanov and other senior Bulgarian officials centered largely on improving cooperation in the fields of technology, industry and tourism. But Peres also cited the need for Palestinians to hold direct peace talks with Israel in the “interests of peace and peaceful coexistence.”

The Bulgarian media quoted Peres as saying that Sofia would be an ideal venue for such negotiations.

“I can’t imagine a better place, really. So close, so convenient; this sounds a bit like a self-invitation,” Peres was quoted as saying.

The daily Dnevnik quoted Peres as saying Israel had no desire to “return to Gaza” and that Israel would lift its blockade if Gaza residents were peaceful and well meaning.

Bulgaria maintains good relations with both Israel and the Palestinians. Peres’ visit comes less than a month after a visit to Bulgaria by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

A Bulgarian government statement said Peres’ trip was “the result of the high level of the bilateral cooperation between both countries in all spheres.”

Purvanov had visited Israel in 2008.

Following his meetings in Sofia, Peres was flying to Bucharest for high-level talks with Romanian officials.

He also was slated to attend a memorial ceremony Thursday for the six Israeli soldiers and a Romanian soldier killed in the crash of an Israeli military helicopter last month during training exercises in central Romania.

Olmert goes to China; Hezbollah is back; Euro righties caucus; Jews get blamed again


Olmert Goes to China

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to China for talks on the Iranian nuclear threat. Monday’s trip also marks 15 years of relations between the countries and seeks to expand Israel’s current trade relations. Olmert’s family has historic ties to China: His grandparents fled there from czarist Russia in the early 1900s, and his parents were born and raised there.

“China is the country which hosted my parents. They studied in China. They spoke Chinese. They grew up in China, and the Chinese culture is part of my heritage and part of my earliest memory as a young kid in the State of Israel,” Olmert was quoted as telling the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “So China is not another country for me.”

Hezbollah Rebuilding, UNIFIL Ignoring

Hezbollah is rearming and United Nations forces are doing nothing to prevent it or disarm them, Israel’s military intelligence chief said. Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that the Lebanese terrorist group is rebuilding its rocket-launching capabilities. He also said the Syrian army had lowered its alert level to what it was before last summer’s war with Lebanon.

Yadlin told the committee it seemed clear that Syrian President Bashar Assad wanted to hold peace talks with Israel, but that his intentions were unclear.

Europe Gets Extreme-Right Caucus

Extreme-right parties in the European Parliament are forming a caucus. The Guardian reported Monday that the accession of Romania and Bulgaria this month to the European Union enabled the group’s formation. Under Parliament rules, a minimum of 19 parliamentarians from at least five countries are needed for the creation of a political group.

The group expects the Bulgarian member of the Attack Party and the Romanian members of the Greater Romania Party, both of which are known for their anti-Roma, or gypsy, and racist stances, to join. The faction is to be led by French National Front member Bruno Gollnisch, who is awaiting a court verdict on charges of Holocaust denial. It also would include Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; and Andreas Moelzer, a former adviser to far-right Austrian politician Joerg Haider.

Moelzer told the Austrian Press Agency that the group will announce its plans when the Parliament gets under way Jan. 15. By forming a caucus, the group, which is to be called Identity, Sovereignty and Transparency, will be able to avail itself of E.U. funding and easier access to leadership positions in the Parliament.

Jews Blamed for Polish Archbishop’s Demise

Some supporters of a Polish archbishop who resigned amid controversy claimed Jews were responsible. Stanislaw Wielgus, the new archbishop of Warsaw, resigned Sunday at a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral that was to mark his new post. Documents in Polish newspapers have revealed that Wielgus collaborated with the communist-era secret police, a collaboration he initially denied but finally admitted.

Following the surprise resignation, fights broke out between the bishop’s backers and detractors outside of St. John’s, The New York Times reported Monday. Some of the supporters shouted that Jews were trying to destroy the church. The Vatican will look for a replacement for Wielgus, who was replacing Jozef Glemp. Glemp, who held the post for several decades, stirred controversy when he defended the location of a Carmelite convent and the placement of crosses just outside the former Auschwitz death camp.

Anti-Semitic Attackers Visit Anne Frank House

Ten Belgians convicted of an anti-Semitic attack visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. In the November attack, the 10 youths of Turkish descent threw stones and shouted anti-Semitic slogans at a group of Chasidic teens visiting Beringen, in eastern Belgium. Sentenced to 30 hours of community service, the youths were also invited to the Anne Frank House by Belgian Cabinet Minister Peter Vanvelthoven, who accompanied them on the visit. Vanvelthoven stated that he hoped “to encourage these youths to respect the Jewish people.”

Ahmet Koc, a member of Vanvelthoven’s personal Cabinet and a board member of the Turkish Union of Belgium, accompanied the group as well, saying the incident had been simply “a misunderstanding.” Laura Abrahams, a press officer of Vanvelthoven’s office, stated the Anne Frank House had been chosen over more local sites in Belgium because “it is easier for the perpetrators to identify with a young girl in their age group than with millions of victims.”

Yeshiva Student Attacked in Sydney

One week after a Holocaust survivor was murdered in Sydney, an Israeli yeshiva student may have been attacked less than a mile from the murder scene. Shortly after midnight Jan. 4, ambulance officers responding to an anonymous call found Nitzan Zerach, 23, lying unconscious in the street on which the yeshiva is located. Police initially believed Zerach’s injuries were self-inflicted as a result of intoxication, but hospital reports showed no noticeable alcohol in his system. Doctors discovered he had suffered a brain hemorrhage. Following a review of yeshiva security footage, a police spokesman told the Australian Jewish News that “new facts had come to light and that they were keeping an open mind.”

Jewish Groups Call for Wage Hike

Jewish groups called on the U.S. Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25. Jewish Funds for Justice and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers Monday, signed by more than 450 rabbis and rabbinical students and modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal leaders.

“Jewish labor law rests on the assumption that a full-time worker shall earn enough to support his/her family,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Jewish Funds for Justice’s education director. “To begin to realize self-sufficiency for workers as envisioned by Jewish law, we must raise the federal minimum wage.”

Ayalon Joins Nefesh B’Nefesh

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States was named co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh. The aliyah advocacy organization praised Daniel Ayalon’s “diplomatic stature, worldly expertise and passionate Zionism” in its announcement Tuesday.”Aliyah is the ultimate means to securing the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Ayalon said. “Having had the distinct honor of serving the State of Israel in Washington and [becoming] intimately familiar with the American Jewish community, I am convinced of the need to further expand Western aliyah over the coming decade.”

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“Unholy Order: Mystery Stories with a Religious Twist”


In 1995, nurse, mystery writer and prospective single mom Serita Stevens traveled to Romania to adopt an abandoned 9-month-old baby girl. So appalled was she at the conditions in the orphanage at which she finally met her future daughter, she started Hugs and Hopes–Romania to help care for the orphans and abandoned children in a country still struggling to recover from the ruin and desperation caused by the Ceausescu regime.

In “Holy Orders 18,” Stevens lines up prominent mystery writers, all of whom are donating their royalties to the organization. Besides supporting a good cause, this collection of short stories is also fun. While not “serious” literature, “Holy Orders,” perhaps unintentionally, gives a pleasant overview of the state of “pulp” mystery fiction.

As the reading public has become larger, what were previously just genres have become elaborate marketing strategies. Mystery, romance, science fiction, action, police procedurals all have their own sets of authors, magazines, even publishing houses. Here we get a collection of the techniques and themes of contemporary “bloodless” mystery short stories. While each has a religious setting of some sort, the twists of plot dominate.

Some of the now-familiar conceits of mystery writing surface in an amusing ways. Two stories, for example, are set in medieval Europe, a favorite haunt these days for ingenious plot turns in recast whodunits. Both Margaret Frazer and Mary Monica Pulver feature an English Catholic ecclesiastic in the role of detective by default.

The most harrowing stories are cast in the first person. Two of those in Stevens’ collection, “Widow’s Peak” by local author Rochelle Krich and “Remembered Zion” by Carolyn Wheat, both revolve around the continued unfolding of suffering entailed by the Shoah. Instead of solving some mystery of crime, as do the other stories, they solve a mystery of self.

Stevens’ own contribution seems to some degree autobiographical, as it centers around an observant Jewish woman’s quest to adopt a baby in Romania. The story also features, amusingly, an inadvertent vampire. Even vampires, Stevens’ tale would have us believe, yearn for yamim Ha-Moshiach, the coming of the days of the Messiah.

Anne Perry and Ralph McInerny’s contributions are classic examples of mystery misdirection, befitting the two arguably most well-known authors in the collection. Perry’s narrator, for example, is in the mode of James Stewart’s role in “Rear Window,” the passive watcher who figures it all out. McInerny brings his famous Father Dowling into play once again. One wishes that the late Harry Kemelman, author of the Rabbi Small series, were around to add his two talmudic cents to Stevens’ mix.

A pleasant way to spend an evening, and, besides having some fun, you’ll get to help a good cause.