Survivor: Harry Magid


“The Jews are going to be taken from the ghetto and killed.” Harry Magid — known then as Herschel — urged his mother to escape with his younger brother, Alex. Harry had learned from a Ukrainian friend of his father that 300 horse-drawn wagons had been ordered to transport the approximately 2,500 Jews in the Stepan ghetto to the forests outside Kostopol, where large pits had been dug. Harry’s mother disguised herself as a Ukrainian and slipped out with Alex through a few loose boards in the ghetto wall. “I’ll come later,” 12-year-old Harry promised. But Ukrainian police began shooting at escapees, and Harry retreated to their ghetto house.

The next day, as the roundup began, Harry hid in a large hole in the ground that served as an outhouse, covering himself with branches. But the smell forced him back inside, to the attic. A Ukrainian policeman later discovered him, demanding a gold watch for not reporting him. Harry complied. The next day, however, a German soldier appeared with a gun. “Raus, schweinehund” (Out, bastard), he shouted. Harry jumped into a wagon headed for the Killing Field, as it was later called.

Herschel “Harry” Magid was born on July 17, 1930, in Stepan, a village in the Wolyn province of Poland (now Ukraine) to Joseph and Frieda Magid. His brother, Alex, was born in 1935. Joseph owned a flourmill, and the observant family enjoyed a comfortable existence.

Harry attended the Hebrew-language Tarbut school from 1936 until September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, and Eastern Ukraine, including the Wolyn province, was handed over to the Soviet Union. Jews were forbidden to attend school, and Jewish businesses were confiscated, though Joseph continued to work at the flourmill as an employee. 

In June 1941, Germany broke its Nonaggression Pact with the Soviet Union, and German soldiers entered Stepan. In August 1941, they ordered the Jews into a ghetto, allowing them to take only what they could carry. Harry shared a room with 10 relatives, sleeping on the floor and eating a small portion of bread and “soup that was mostly water” each day. A few skilled workers were allowed to live and work outside the ghetto, including Harry’s father.

Harry worked from sunup to sundown, carrying buckets of sand from the Horyn River to a work site where a road was being constructed with sand, water and broken gravestones from the Jewish cemetery. “I often got whipped for not working fast enough,” Harry recalls. Harry also often slipped out of the ghetto to visit his father at the flourmill. That’s where he heard about the impending roundup.

As Harry’s wagon headed to the Killing Field, the sand from the road swirled heavily, clouding the air and obstructing visibility. Harry saw his chance to escape when the wagon passed two barns on the side of the road. He jumped and hid in a potato field between the barns, waiting until all was quiet.

Harry made his way to the flourmill and hid with his father under the floorboards. They then walked to the farm of a Ukrainian friend, who hid them in a haystack in the cold and rain. A few weeks later, learning of Frieda and Alex’s whereabouts, they joined them in Komarivka, a village 30 kilometers away. Together, the family hid in a forest by day and slept in a barn at night. 

One day, three Ukrainian policemen with rifles and dogs discovered them in the forest. Harry quickly ran and ducked under some bushes. Harry’s father offered them three 10-ruble gold coins that had been sewn into Harry’s pants. “Herschko, come out,” his mother called. Harry stayed put, but his mother found him and took the gold pieces to the policemen. As they left, Harry, still hidden in the bushes, heard one say, “We’ll come back tomorrow and pick them up.” 

Harry and his family immediately left, walking 20 kilometers to Kamariske, where another Ukrainian farmer agreed to hide them for money. He put them in a barn with hay and pigs. But it was very cold — 20 below zero, Harry estimates — and they dug a 6-foot square pit in the dirt floor, covering it with wood and straw, for some warmth.

They lived in the barn for six months, with little food and water. They made drinking water by melting icicles and stole the raw potatoes that the farmer fed to the pigs. The farmer was paid by a Ukrainian family friend with money and other valuables that Harry’s father had buried. 

One night, in June 1943, the farmer ordered them to leave. The next day, they later learned, Germans burned down the barn. But Harry’s family had found lodging with another Ukrainian, Gordey Kondratuk, who hid them in his barn, feeding them as best he could and trying to convert them to the Baptist religion.

In late 1943, the Ukrainians, determined to establish an independent country, evicted the Germans and invited the remaining Jews to return to Stepan, especially professionals and skilled workers. Joseph returned to the factory. Harry remained in hiding with his mother and brother.

Some weeks later, with the Russian Army advancing, the Ukrainians rounded up the 50 Jews who had returned to Stepan, including Joseph. They shot them and threw them into the Horyn River, destroying witnesses to the atrocities they had committed. 

The Russian Army liberated Stepan in March 1944. Harry had been in hiding 19 months, wearing essentially the same clothes the whole time, rags that now hung on him, and using flour sacks tied with string for shoes. He had typhus, weighed 70 pounds and almost died. 

Harry, his mother and brother stayed in Stepan until 1945. From there, they eventually made their way to Ulm, Germany, where they stayed in several displaced persons camps, including Donabastion, for three years. Then, sponsored by relatives in the United States, the three arrived in Detroit on July 17, 1949, Harry’s 19th birthday.

Harry worked selling ice cream from a truck. In March 1958, he met Eva Lung, a Hungarian survivor, and they married on Oct. 26, 1958. They moved to Chicago in 1962, and then to Los Angeles a year later. Harry sold ice cream, worked in construction, and, in 1972, he and Eva bought a small grocery, Stan’s Market, on Third Street and Witmer, near downtown Los Angeles, retiring 10 years later.

Harry and Eva have three children: Joseph, born in 1959; Vera, born in 1962; and Benjamin, born in 1972.

Harry was active in the Wolliner Society of Los Angeles, composed of “landsmen” from the Wolyn province who raised more than $1 million for Israel and, in addition, purchased three ambulances for the Jewish state. Although the organization disbanded in 2000, “We had 400 members at one time,” Harry said.

Harry is now 82 and still manages some real estate properties he owns. He is a member of B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson and enjoys playing cards once a week. 

“There’s nothing but luck,” Harry says of his survival. Then, he adds, “I was never afraid for anything.”

Survivor: Regina Hirsch


“Leave your possessions. We will bring them to you,” a Jewish commando greeted the trainload of Jews arriving at Auschwitz. He pointed to Regina Landowicz’s mother: “Too old.” And to her sister Lillie: “Too young.” Sally, another sister, took scissors from her rucksack and quickly trimmed their mother’s hair and lopped off Lillie’s braids as German soldiers shouted, “Raus, raus!” (Out, out!) On the platform, a German soldier tried to grab Lillie from their mother’s arms, but their mother clutched her tightly, even as he beat her. “Ma, ma,” Regina, Sally and another sister, Ruthie, screamed. A soldier whipped the girls, separating them from their mother and Lillie. “Where you’re going you don’t need a mother,” he told 16-year-old Regina. 

Regina, Sally and Ruthie were processed and taken to Block 25, which housed 1,000 women. “We lay on the floor like animals,” Regina said. From the open door, they saw the entire sky glow red from fire and later learned their mother and Lillie had been gassed and cremated. 

Regina was born on June 29, 1928, in Lodz, Poland, to Ajzyk and Esther Landowicz, the third-to-last child in an observant family of eight girls and one boy. Only Regina and three sisters survived the Holocaust.

Regina’s father had been a wealthy businessman. The family lived in a large apartment and spent summers in the country. Regina remembers that every Shabbat her father brought an oyrech — an impoverished guest — to dinner. In the early 1930s, Regina’s father lost his money and opened a small grocery store.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, occupying Lodz seven days later. The Germans immediately cut off food supplies to the city’s approximately 230,000 Jews, instituted curfews and confiscated property. Jewish men were carted off to labor camps. In December, all Jews were ordered to wear yellow stars. Regina’s five older siblings fled to Warsaw and points east. (Of those five, only Judy, who escaped to Siberia, survived.) 

“Everybody was scared,” Regina said. She and Ruthie often stood in line all night in the snow and cold for a loaf of bread. One time, in the early morning darkness, a German soldier approached Regina and yelled, “Jude, raus” (Jew, out). He beat her up. Ruthie later returned home with bread. 

As rumors of a ghetto began circulating, Regina’s parents, with $50 from an American uncle, purchased a room from a Polish family. Regina and Ruthie dragged a sled carrying household items, including a wooden bathtub and their father’s Hebrew books, there, making several trips. By February 1940, all Jews were ordered into the ghetto. 

On April 1, Regina, who had contracted typhoid, was taken to a small ghetto hospital. She awoke the next morning semi-conscious in a bathtub of ice. “You’re the luckiest kid in the world,” a woman told her.  The previous day the Gestapo had rounded up all the doctors, nurses and patients and shot them. 

In spring 1940, the Jews began working in exchange for food. Regina wove shawls by hand on a loom. Later she made boots out of straw for the German soldiers. “My hands were full of pus from that work,” Regina said. Her last job was making wooden cribs. Regina stopped working toward the end of 1943, as deportations to Auschwitz increased. 

One day, Regina and her family hid in the attic of a burned-out factory. German soldiers with dogs later searched the building but didn’t discover them. 

Another time, in June 1944, their mother took Regina and Lillie (Sally and Ruthie were still working) to a field, where they hid in a tepee-shaped bundle of hay. They lay there all day, until Regina lost a boot and her mother decided to leave. German soldiers later machine-gunned everyone hiding there. 

“Miracles. Unbelievable miracles. I myself don’t believe them,” Regina said.

For the next two months, Regina and her family spent their days hiding in the large Jewish cemetery and their nights in a nearby shack. One day they heard gunfire ring out for hours. The next day Regina, her three sisters and her mother were captured and shipped to Auschwitz. Regina never learned her father’s fate. 

After two months in Auschwitz’s Block 25, 250 girls from the Lodz ghetto, including Regina, Sally and Ruthie, were transferred to A Lager. During the night, German soldiers burst in and took out 50 girls. Regina and her sisters lay huddled on a top bunk, hearing the others’ screams.

“If I live to be 100 years, I cannot describe Auschwitz. Unbelievable. Hell on earth,” she said. 

From Auschwitz, the girls were taken to a munitions factory in Oederan, Saxony. Upon arrival, they were led into a dining room, where bowls of soup awaited them. “A spoon. They gave us a spoon,” Regina recalled. Subsequent meals were less lavish, but they had food, slept five to a bunk and were given hot water every week to wash up.

In the factory, Regina worked 12 hours a day drilling holes, one at a time, into German bullets. “I tried to make the hole on the side, but the foreman was measuring constantly,” she said.  

In late April 1945, the girls were sent to Theresienstadt. There, with “unbelievable hunger and not a drop of water,” Regina said, they lived outdoors. 

On May 8, Soviet troops liberated the camp.

After several months, Regina and her sisters found themselves at a DP camp in Landsberg am Lech, Germany, where Regina studied design and pattern making through ORT. More than four years later, in 1949, Sally and Ruthie were each married and had immigrated to the United States. Regina followed, arriving in Los Angeles in August 1949.

In early 1950, Regina met Phillip Hirsch, a landsman from Lodz and a Bergen-Belsen survivor. They married on March 11, 1951. Their son, Mark, was born on Jan. 4, 1952, and daughter, Laurene, on Sept. 28, 1956. Phillip died on June 1, 2008.

Today, Regina, now 84, lives in Westwood. She enjoys spending time with her family, including her son, daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and sisters Ruthie and Sally. 

Regina began speaking out about the Holocaust in 1949, a time when “nobody wanted to listen,” she said. She was one of the first speakers at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and continues to speak there every Thursday. She also talks to college students and the U.S. military.

“While we’re here, we have to talk, we have to teach. What else is there to do?” she said.

Survivor: Gitta Seidner Ginsberg


Gitta Seidner—known at the time by the Christian name Jannine Spinette—was abruptly awakened around 4:30 a.m. by a large commotion outside her farmhouse bedroom in Waterloo, Belgium. “No, no, no. What do you want with my goddaughter?” she heard her godmother, Alice Spinette, say. SS soldiers then kicked open the door and pulled the crying girl from her bed. “She’s not Jewish,” Alice insisted. The soldiers didn’t listen. They ordered Alice to get Gitta dressed and drove them to SS headquarters in Brussels.

There, despite her godmother’s protests, Gitta was led down a staircase to a pitch-black cellar and was locked in a cell. Gitta grabbed the cell bars, shaking them, and screamed, “Pourquoi je suis ici?” “Why am I here?” Gitta heard a man’s voice coming from another cell. “Meidele, veine nicht, meidele,” he said in Yiddish. “Little girl, don’t cry, little girl.” But the words only made her cry harder, until finally she fell asleep. She was 6½ years old. It was the fall of 1943.

Gitta was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 28, 1937, the only child of Regina and Shloime Seidner. Her father worked in a factory that recycled old clothes. The family was poor.

In May 1938, two months after the Anschluss, in which Germany annexed Austria, and the same month in which the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in that country, Gitta’s father and uncle fled for Belgium. Gitta and her mother followed a month later, along with Gitta’s grandmother, aunt, two teenage cousins and another uncle.

In Brussels, Gitta and her parents lived in a small apartment. At age 3, she began nursery school, and her grandmother picked her up every afternoon, always bringing a cookie. Many Friday evenings, Gitta walked with her grandmother to synagogue. “It was nice in Brussels,” Gitta remembers.

Things changed in May 1940, when Germany invaded Belgium and began instituting anti-Jewish laws. Gitta’s aunt and uncle, their two teenage sons and another uncle accepted the Germans’ offer to work in the east. Gitta, her parents and grandmother watched as they and other Jews climbed into trucks parked in one of Brussels’ large squares. “Come with us,” one uncle said. “No, we’re staying here,” Gitta’s father answered. Her grandmother was crying.

In fall 1941, as the situation worsened, Gitta’s parents sent her to live with a well-to-do Christian woman who wanted to save a Jewish child. Gitta’s father explained to her that this was “make-believe,” like in the storybooks she loved.

Gitta liked Alice Spinette, a single woman in her 50s. She was also impressed by the apartment—it had marble and mirrors and the first bathroom Gitta had ever seen.

Gitta called the woman “Marraine,” godmother, and selected the name Jannine for herself. She went to church and to a Catholic nursery school and saw her parents every few weeks. “I had a very nice life,” she recalled.

One day, Spinette took Gitta to her parents’ apartment to tell them Gitta needed to be baptized. Gitta’s father refused. But Gitta’s grandmother, sitting in her usual chair by the window reading her prayer book, said, “Yes, she should be baptized.”

Alice had friends living on a farm in Waterloo, whom she and Gitta sometimes visited overnight. One time, when the friends had other guests, they stayed with acquaintances. It was the daughter of those acquaintances who revealed Gitta’s Jewish identity to her SS boyfriend.

Eventually, the SS released Gitta, although she does not know how long she spent in jail, only that she cried and screamed the entire time. She was placed in an orphanage in Linkebeek, outside Brussels, one of several orphanages operated by the Association of Jews in Belgium, but established by the Germans and used to perpetuate the myth that older family members were being relocated in work camps in the east. Later, Gitta was moved to an orphanage in Wezembeek, also outside Brussels.

In August 1944, learning that the Nazis planned to liquidate the orphanages, the Belgian resistance woke the children in the middle of the night, put them on trucks and delivered them to various convents. Gitta was taken to a convent boarding school near Bastogne, in the south of Belgium.

One day the Mother Superior marched all the children into town, giving them little Union Jacks and sitting them on the sidewalk. They waved their flags, chanting “Vive la liberté” as British soldiers, who had helped liberate Belgium in September 1944, rode by in jeeps and tanks.

A few days later, the Mother Superior returned with the children. This time they were given American flags to welcome the American soldiers.

Gitta’s parents, meanwhile, traveled from convent to convent searching for her. Finally, they found her and brought her with them to the orphanage in Aische-en-Refail where they were working. It was late 1944; Gitta remembers celebrating Chanukah with some Jewish GIs.

She returned with her parents to Brussels around March 1945. Several times they went to the square when truckloads of Jews returned from the camps, looking for their relatives. Gitta believes they were killed in Auschwitz.

Gitta’s parents immigrated to Israel in April 1949, but the adjustment was difficult, and a year later they returned to Brussels. The family immigrated to the United States in July 1952.

Gitta met Sidney Ginsberg at New York’s 92nd Street Y in 1955, and they married on October 16, 1957. Their son Michael was born on July 24, 1961. They moved to Los Angeles a year later, and a second son, Stewart, was born on Sept. 12, 1965. Gitta and Sidney subsequently divorced. She has two granddaughters.

Gitta later did administrative work both for Jewish Family Service’s Valley Storefront and for the Los Angeles Unified School District, retiring in 2009.

Today she volunteers one morning a week at Adat Ari El. She is also president of the California Association of Child Survivors of the Holocaust, founded in 1995.

In 2011, at the invitation of Vienna’s Jewish community, and accompanied by her sons, Gitta visited Vienna. There they attended Shabbat services at City Temple.

“Never did I think I’d be sitting in synagogue in Vienna, looking down [from the women’s balcony] and seeing my two sons praying. And I started crying,” Gitta said.

Survivor: Jack Seror


Jack Seror didn’t know what to do. He was 25 and knew he had to leave Salonika; it wasn’t safe for Jews. And now a contact from the Greek resistance had come to fetch him. Jack stood with his parents in their living room, crying. They hugged, kissed and hugged some more. “We have to leave,” the contact said. Half of Jack wanted to stay with his parents; the other half wanted to escape. Finally, his father, with tears in his eyes, said, “Go. And remember, if you survive, to say Kaddish for us.”

Jack was born Oct. 15, 1917, in Salonika, Greece, the fifth of six children of David, a milk wholesaler, and Mazeltov Seror. The family was religious. On Friday nights, after Shabbat dinner and singing, Jack recalls that his father always told a new story about a character he remembers as Johah.

Jack attended an Alliance Israelite Universelle school through seventh grade. After that he worked in his uncle’s dry goods store and then for an insurance company. But in March 1940, he was drafted into the Greek army. Eight months later, Italy invaded Greece. Then, as the Greeks drove the Italians back into Albania, Jack’s unit was sent to the Bulgarian border, where the Germans were advancing.

After the Germans took control of Salonika, on April 9, 1941, Jack’s unit was sent to southern Greece to continue fighting. The Greek army, however, was soon disbanded, and Jack returned home, mostly walking and occasionally riding a bus, from Thebes to Salonika. The trip took five weeks.

In Salonika, Jack just tried to survive. His older brother Albert had been killed fighting the Italians. His father, no longer a milk wholesaler, was working as a deliveryman. Jack sold carob syrup.

The situation worsened. On Feb. 6, 1943, Jews were ordered to wear yellow stars. On the streets, Jack witnessed Nazi round-ups. He also saw photos of cattle cars carrying Jews in a Belgian magazine that was soon confiscated from the newsstands by the Nazis. He told his parents the Nazis were planning to kill the Jews. His father answered, “Passover will be here in a couple of months, and God will not let us perish.” Jack didn’t believe it.

In March, the Nazis enclosed the area adjacent to Salonika’s railroad station with barbed wire, calling it the Baron Hirsch camp or ghetto, and transferring Jews there. A few days later, cattle cars arrived, and on March 15, the first transport left for Auschwitz. Two days later, another transport departed. At that point, Jack knew he had to leave.

Jack and his contact from the resistance picked up Jack’s sister Katy from a neighboring village, and they made their way to Grevena, a small city in the mountains of northwestern Greece. Jack’s resistance group, about 35 men, was headquartered there.

Katy and the other women stayed near Grevena. Katy’s job was to sew shirts out of the parachutes used by British soldiers who were dropped into the mountainous area to assist the resistance fighters.

Jack’s group trekked from village to village, from one hill to another. “We were scared. We were always thinking about what we left back home,” Jack said. But they never talked about their personal lives. Instead, everyone had a fake name, including Capt. Bourna, the leader, rumored to be a Greek army officer. Jack was Alekos Saridis.

Every morning, Jack’s group did aerobic exercises, followed by chores — including fetching water, cooking the ever-present lentils, helping villagers — and then combat training. Plus, they were always watching for enemy soldiers. “We went there to survive, but we also knew we had to fight the Germans.” Jack said.

Jack’s group didn’t directly encounter any Germans, though one man, sent to deliver shoes, never returned. And Jack’s younger brother Haim, in a different resistance group, was killed fighting Germans.

Finally, in October 1944, the Germans retreated from Greece. Jack’s resistance group disbanded soon after, and he and Katy slowly made their way back to Salonika, arriving in early 1945.

Jack and Katy were the only survivors in their immediate family. Overall, 96 percent of Salonika’s almost 60,000 Jews perished.

Jack secured an accounting job at a social club for British troops. “It was very good to be able to be human again,” he said. There he met Katie Zinda, who worked in the gift shop. After a six-month friendship, they fell in love and decided to marry. Katie, who wasn’t Jewish, converted, taking the formal name Sarah.

Jack and Katie were married on Sept. 9, 1949, with 10 people in attendance. “People were so sure the marriage wasn’t going to last that we didn’t get any presents,” Jack said.

On July 9, 1950, their son David was born. Just over a year later, destitute and wanting to start over, they immigrated to the United States, settling in Boston in October 1951, where they were helped by Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Jack found temporary bookbinding work at Houghton Mifflin and also worked at a warehouse. Their son Marc was born Aug. 16, 1952.

But the winters were brutal, and the family moved to Los Angeles in February 1952. Jack took a warehouse job for a year and then worked for a calendar company. In 1959, he and Katie purchased a small grocery store, Quinn’s Market, near Glendale. In 1966, they sold it and purchased another grocery store in Venice. “We worked hard, six and sometimes seven days a week,” Jack said. They sold the store in 1979.

Jack and Katie also worked hard for Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. “Jewish Family Service was very good to us. We wanted to pay back for what the Jewish people did for us,” Jack said.

Katie died in May 2010. Today Jack, 94 and legally blind, walks, listens to tapes from the Braille Institute and visits with his grandchildren every week. He also travels by bus every Saturday from his Culver City home to the Westside Pavilion, where he visits with other Greek survivors. Of the original group of 30, four remain.

“I am thankful for what we accomplished,” Jack said.

Survivior: Julia Moshe


In early October 1943, a day or two after Rosh Hashanah, Julia Moshe — née Costi — was walking to her bookkeeping job at the Atlas Watch Co. in Volos, Greece, when she heard footsteps behind her. “Mademoiselle, don’t turn around your head,” a male voice warned. “Yesterday SS soldiers came to city hall asking for a list of the Jewish people.” Julia started trembling. She recalled her mother’s words, “If the Germans come here, it’s OK if they take us.” Julia gave notice at work and hurried home. “Please don’t say no,” she begged her mother. “We have to go from here.”

Julia, her sister Carmen and their mother immediately arranged to rent two donkeys from villagers who had trekked down Mount Pelion to barter figs for olive oil. The girls helped their mother cover the donkeys’ backs with blankets and load them with bedding, clothing, olive oil, flour and, on top, Carmen’s sewing machine. The villagers led the donkeys, the three women walking behind, up the mountain to Kanalia, a village where Julia’s father was buying pears for his wholesale fruit business.

Julia was born on June 17, 1918, in Volos, a town on the Aegean Sea, at the foot of Mount Pelion. She was the third daughter of Isaac and Sterina Costi. Although the Sephardic Jews lived amicably with the Greek Orthodox Christians, life in Volos was not easy. The Jewish community was mostly poor, and Julia’s father was constantly traveling, searching for produce. Julia remembers only one happy childhood event, when she was 7 and her father returned with gifts from a trip to Salonika. Hers was an orange silk jersey dress with a drop waist and a pleated top. “Oh, I was so happy,” she said.

Volos came under Italian occupation after Nazi Germany declared war on Greece on April 6, 1941. The Jews, then numbering around 900, though fearful, continued to live in relative peace. The Italian governor befriended Volos’ Chief Rabbi Moshe Pessah, and Archbishop Ioakim (later honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among Nations) and the many resistance groups actively assisted the Jews. The Christian leaders continued to reassure the Jews, even after March 1943, when they learned the Jews of Salonika were being deported.

During that time, Julia’s family was consumed by the illness of the middle sister, Artemis, who had developed a high fever after being bitten by an insect. Artemis died in May 1943, and Julia’s mother took Artemis’ death “very deep,” according to Julia, wearing only black afterward and professing indifference toward being captured. Still, the family obtained false identity papers from the local police station. Julia became Niki Chegarides.

Then, after Italy surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 3, 1943, the Germans invaded Greece, occupying Volos. On Sept. 30, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Nazi commander demanded from Rabbi Pessah the names, addresses and properties of all Volos’ Jews. The Jews were advised to leave the city immediately.

Julia remembers hiking up the steep trail toward Kanalia, following the donkeys; it was a hot, sunny day, and she was afraid. At one point, three strangers jumped out of the forest, demanding, “Who are you?” They explained they were Jews escaping, and the strangers, who were resistance fighters, let them pass. In Kanalia, they met their father, who advised them to hike farther up the mountain to Keramidi, where he would meet them.

They finally reached Keramidi, a poor village overlooking the Aegean Sea, and found a house to rent. There was no work. Julia helped her mother cook and clean. She also hiked down the mountain to the natural spring to fetch drinking water, lugging it uphill in two buckets on a shoulder yoke. Additionally, she knit a jacket for the only rich girl in the village, receiving a fish from nearby Lake Karla as payment. “It was like a feast,” Julia said.

When Julia’s family heard German planes buzzing over the sea looking for partisans hiding in the thick forests, they too ran for the forest. A few times they spent the entire night there, sleeping in a clearing or a barn.

Toward the end of the war, Julia accompanied a family friend to Zagora, another village. They hiked down the mountain to the sea and boarded a small boat. Suddenly, German airplanes began shooting at them, and they crouched down in the boat, ducking their heads. “They were maniacs,” Julia said. The next day Greece was liberated. It was October 1944.

Julia met her mother and sister back in Volos. But with no opportunities for work, Julia, who saw herself as the family decision maker, urged them to move to Salonika. By spring 1945, the family was living there, and Julia found a job helping people reclaim Jewish properties.

In Salonika, Julia met Albert Moshe, a shoemaker who had been in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and whose first wife had been killed. They were married in June 1947, and their daughter, Artemis, was born in March 1950.

In July 1951, they immigrated to the United States, settling in Boston. Julia’s parents followed three months later. They all lived in a third-floor apartment above a liquor store. But after a fire engulfed the building, they decided to move west. Their son, Joe, was born in December 1952, and the following May they arrived in Los Angeles.

Albert worked as a shoemaker. Then he and Julia bought The Friendly Market, a small grocery, in Hawthorne, which they operated from 1960 to 1972. Albert died in February 2004.

Julia, now 93, lives in West Los Angeles. Despite her macular degeneration, she still enjoys knitting. She also likes to visit Westside Pavilion with her caregiver, where she sometimes meets other Greek survivors and enjoys looking at jewelry.

“I’m crazy about earrings,” she said. She’s also crazy about her two granddaughters and two great-grandchildren.

“All my life is an adventure,” Julia says.

I remember Kristallnacht — 70 years later


November 9, 1938, Bismarckstrasse 118 — It’s already two o’clock in the morning, the next day. All is calm; all is quiet, in this unholy night. We live on the second floor. I have a room on the third floor. Another month and I’ll be 11 years old. Now I am sound asleep. Suddenly there is a pounding, a loud, constant pounding, and I wake up — a pounding, a terrible pounding at the front door.

“Open up, open up, or we’ll break the door down!”

I run to the banister. I see my parents on the second floor below, frightened, hesitant. My father wants to go down, but my mother stops him. He just had an operation around his eyes, and she does not want anything to happen to him. Before he can argue, she is down the steps.

“Open up, open up, or we’ll break it down!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” my mother calls out.

I am scared. I rush into my room, grab a small suitcase and rush out again.

“Vati, Vati,” I call down. “If they take you, I’m going with you!”

My mother has reached the door. As she opens it, she and the door are hurled against the wall.

Nazis, half a dozen of them, with rifles, rush up the steps.

My mother follows. I come down. We all meet on the second floor. They want to lock us into the kitchen.

“No, no,” my mother screams, “we won’t be locked up!”

We run around through the rooms, one after the other. As we come into the study, my father rushes to his desk, with the head Nazi close behind.

My father opens a drawer, pulls out the Iron Cross, his medal from World War I, holds it up and shouts, “Is this the thanks I get for having served the fatherland?”

The Nazi and he stand face to face.

What now? Curses: “Damned, dirty Jew!”? The butt of the rifle in the face? Or an even quicker, final answer: a bullet in the head?

For a moment, a long moment, silence, deadly silence, their eyes locked for an eternity.

Suddenly, the Nazi turns, signals his men silently, leads them down the stairs, out of the house and into the black night, without breaking one dish.

Elsewhere that night, in Jewish houses and homes, on our street and throughout Krefeld, dishes and windows, furniture and crystal break. The synagogue burns.

Kristallnacht! Here and in all the cities of Germany.

Day breaks, but it isn’t over. They come to take my father away to the concentration camp along with all the other Jewish men of the city. He is at the doctor’s. They never come back for him and let him go.

My parents and I fled in 1939, a few months after Kristallnacht, the dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. We were saved by distant relatives in America. We arrived June 11. Three months later, the war started. We had escaped on the eve of the Holocaust.

This excerpt is from a speech first given in 1988 on a return by the author, Rolf Gompertz, to his hometown of Krefeld, Germany on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Gompertz speaks often on Kristallnacht and the Holocaust at the Museum of Tolerance, and his experience of that pivotal night was dramatized as part of a 2003 television series on BBC titled “Days That Shook the World.” Gompertz will also be speaking Nov. 9 at 4:30 p.m. at a special event commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht at the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance. Admission is free, but reservations must be made by calling the museum at (310)772-2527.

On Nov. 10, Gompertz’s speech will be presented in German translation at an ecumenical event to be held in the new synagogue that was recently dedicated in Krefeld. Gompertz is the author of five books dealing with love and the search for meaning. He considers them his answer to Hitler, Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.

In ‘Adam Resurrected,’ Jeff Goldblum reanimates controversial Shoah survivor


In order to play the lead in “Adam Resurrected,” Jeff Goldblum said he spent “months crying and crawling around on all fours.”

In the movie — which makes its Los Angeles premiere at the AFI Film Festival and is adapted from Yoram Kaniuk’s controversial 1969 novel — Goldblum portrays a German circus clown who survives the Holocaust by entertaining his concentration camp’s commandant: specifically by pretending to be a dog and even sharing a pen with the officer’s German shepherd. The fictional Adam Stein also proves useful by serenading Jews on his violin as they march to the gas chambers.

After the war, the character is suave and sexually voracious (albeit with a sadistic streak), but eventually suffers a mental breakdown. He begins to heal only when he bonds with an abused boy in a rehabilitation hospital in Israel.

While the film has received mixed reviews, critics have so far praised Goldblum for what many are calling a “tour de force” performance.

Director Paul Schrader has said that Goldblum was the only actor he ever had in mind for the role, due to the performer’s ability to simultaneously radiate vulnerability and a cavalier, almost glib charm. Goldblum has demonstrated these qualities in the roles that have made him iconic in the popular culture: a genius who morphs into an insect in David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”; a geeky Jewish cable guy who saves the world in “Independence Day”; and a mathematician with the charisma of a rock star in “Jurassic Park.”

Although he has not made a blockbuster since the 1990s, Goldblum said he has been content with his smaller film and theater roles, recently earning stellar reviews for his turn in David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” in London. (He will replace Chris Noth in USA’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” starting on Nov. 8.) “What’s the word from the Passover seder? Dayenu — if nothing else happened it would be enough,” he said.

The trailer

Then, several years ago, the script of “Adam Resurrected” arrived at his Hollywood Hills home. “I was quickly, entirely, wildly mesmerized,” he recalled of his first reading. “The character is so complicated and contradictory, full of towering grief and rage and poetry and majesty. And the story, of course, is moving and provocative and disturbing.”

Goldblum read and reread Kanuik’stream-of-consciousness novel — which was among the first to depict the Holocaust and its aftermath with biting sarcasm — with some trepidation. “The Holocaust is delicate, hallowed ground, so, yes, I felt nervous about the subject matter and was aware of some of the pitfalls,” he said, stammering and pausing in his idiosyncratic way. “A lifetime is not enough to really understand or know the events, so I spent a year immersing myself in the era.”

Goldblum visited the Museum of Tolerance, spent a month in Germany to perfect his character’s accent and interviewed survivors in Berlin and in Los Angeles at CafĂ© Europa, a support group at the Westside Jewish Community Center. At 6 feet 4 inches, he towered over the elderly Jews with whom he talked and danced at a Purim party. He visited the concentration camp Majdanek, where he peered into the gas chamber, and he spoke frequently to author Kaniuk, who laughed when the actor said he was taking violin lessons for the role.

“He said I had better learn to bark like a dog,” Goldblum recalled. The actor promptly emitted “yips and yaps” into the receiver — but he took the author’s advice seriously, going so far as to meet with Cesar Milan, of “The Dog Whisperer,” and to “spend time with German shepherds.”

Lest one think this was overkill, he pointed out that his character loses virtually everything in the Holocaust — not only his family and his circus, but also his very humanity. “Paul [Schrader] describes the film as a story about a man who was once a dog, who meets a dog who was once a boy,” Goldblum said.

The 55-year-old actor is as renowned among directors for his background research as he is for his quirky, awkward but charming repartee. He spoke to The Journal from his “Law & Order” dressing room in Manhattan, where he was studying a new script on his day off. When Goldblum made “The Fly,” he reportedly caught a fly in a bag in order to observe its habits.

Goldblum said he received only a “smattering” of Holocaust education while growing up the son of a physician in suburban Philadelphia. He attended an Orthodox synagogue, where he became bar mitzvah, and went on to pursue Transcendental Meditation and other Eastern pursuits. Goldblum said he lost no relatives in the Holocaust, although an uncle he closely resembles was a pilot who was shot down and killed in World War II. The actor, too, has experienced his share of losses, including the deaths of his father (in 1983) and a brother, Rick, who succumbed to a virus contracted in North Africa when Jeff was 19.

By that time, Goldberg had been performing piano professionally for five years, finagling gigs by telephoning numbers listed under “cocktail lounges” in the directory. He studied acting with the legendary Sanford Meisner and landed the role of a rapist in 1974’s “Death Wish.”

“The Big Chill” proved to be his big break in 1983.

But “Adam Resurrected,” so far, has proved to be his biggest challenge as an actor. Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum was impressed when he met with Goldblum to talk about survivors and the Nazi era. “It was quite stunning how seriously he prepared,” Berenbaum said. “He wanted to get the feel and tension of the character and to enter his inner world. And he read every book I gave him, from Eli Wiesel’s, “The Town Beyond the Wall,” which deals with how a man used his madness to heal from existential despair, to Victor Frankel’s ideas about the aftermath of the Holocaust — that for some, liberation came much later than the physical liberation.”

“I also remember him down on his hands and knees as a dog — Jeff Goldblum in his Hollywood Hills home as a g-ddamn dog. He had lost a lot of weight for the movie, and I was struck by how tall and thin he was.”

“I wanted to get as much a feel for the real thing as I could,” Goldblum explained. “I just hope I was worthy enough for the role.”

For information about the AFI festival, which runs Oct. 30-Nov. 9, visit www.afi.com.

Holocaust survivor Eva Brown tells her story


Video by Jay Firestone

David Suissa’s column about Holocaust survivor Eva Brown title=”recounting her experiences before, during and after the Shoah”>recounting her experiences before, during and after the Shoah

 

Community Briefs


Czech President Speaks at Yom HaShoah Service

Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus spoke to about 700 Jewish schoolchildren, diplomats and Holocaust survivors at a Yom HaShoah service at the Museum of Tolerance April 25, at which Gilberto Bosques, a Mexican diplomat who saved thousands of French Jews, was honored.

“We must never forget how it started, who did it,” Klaus said during a California visit, in which he also met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The same fate was being prepared for all the Czechs.”

Bosques’ grandson, Tijuana businessman Gilberto Bosques Tistler, accepted the honor on his late grandfather’s behalf. A museum offical told the story of the Mexican consul serving in Vichy France. The diplomat saved about 40,000 Jews, artists and other refugees by issuing travel visas. The visas allowed thousands of Jews to escape to Mexico.

“I hope someone in Israel will say Kaddish for Gilberto Bosques,” said Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles. Beltran is a descendant of Spanish “converso” Jews, who were forced to become Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition.

The speech by the Czech president, as well as those by Mexican, Israeli and Austrian diplomats, supported the memorial service’s tribute to survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who recently died in Vienna.

“For many young Austrians, this fragile, stubborn, modest old man has become a hero,” Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss said. “You don’t need many heroes in your life; you just need to choose them carefully.”

YULA High School junior Ariela Gindi, 16, and others noted that they had never heard Bosques’ story before. “You always hear about Schindler, who saved all the Jews, but you never hear of a Mexican consul personally saving Jews,” Gindi said.

After rescuing Nazi victims in World War II, Bosques served as Mexico’s ambassador to Cuba from 1953 to 1964. During that time, he witnessed the Cuban revolution in which strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown and communist dictator Fidel Castro rose to power.

Bosques Tistler said his grandfather first protected hunted communist insurgents fighting Batista’s rule, and then, after the 1959 revolution, he hid Batista’s allies fleeing Castro’s regime.

“He arrived into Cuba before the Castro revolution,” Bosques Tistler told The Journal. “Before the revolution, he helped Castro’s people, and he gave asylum at the embassy. Then came the revolution, and he gave asylum to the Batista people.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Iranian Community Honors Memory of Shoah Victims

Nearly 1,000 Iranians of various faiths gathered Sunday, April 23, at the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

The event, broadcast via satellite to Iran by Persian-language television stations in Southern California, was considered especially important this year in the wake of recent comments by Iran’s president denying the existence of the Holocaust. Keynote speakers included Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Abbas Milani, professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

“Many in the world don’t understand why Jews are so obsessed with commemorating the Shoah,” Hier said. “We must remember because we paid a dear price for allowing the world to be silent when it was going on more than 60 years ago.”

Audience members became emotional several times during the event when special prayers were chanted for those killed in the Shoah and when anti-Semitic programming from Iran’s state-sponsored television stations was shown.

Other officials in attendance at the Nessah gathering were Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Holocaust Survivors Take Part in Hospital Memorial Event

Toni Green, 82, and her sister, Selma Konitz, 80, both of West Los Angeles and formerly of Auschwitz, Poland, were the only ones of eight siblings to survive the Holocaust. They were sent to separate concentration camps and found each other the day after liberation.

To commemorate Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million who died, the sisters joined other local survivors in a recent candlelighting ceremony at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Program chair Dr. Joel Geiderman, the hospital’s co-chairman of emergency medicine, as well as vice chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told the audience that quite a few survivors come to Cedars, and he urged the residents in attendance, who were from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, to listen to their stories while there’s still an opportunity.

Keynote speaker for the 22nd annual gathering, Dr. Susan Bachrach, curator for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, spoke on “Nazi Medicine and Eugenics.” Her talk mirrored the Holocaust Museum’s current exhibition — the most successful in its history — “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

Through a slide show and video testimonials, Bachrach traced the path of Nazi medicine, stemming from Sir Francis Galton’s philosophy of eugenics, which he defined as the improvement of human hereditary traits through intervention. She noted it was practiced by well-known, respected doctors and moved from forced sterilization and unethical experiments to mass murder to genocide.

“It is inconceivable how that became accepted behavior,” she told the audience, discussing the campaign to cleanse German society of those deemed “biological threats,” to the Nordic (“ideal”) race.

Bachrach concluded that “no straight path led from eugenics to Nazi medicine to the Holocaust. It was a twisted route, with many steps along the way. The cumulative, step-by-step choices of thousands and tens of thousands of persons, added up to genocide.” — Melissa Maroff, Contributing Writer

Youths Stage Rally Against Genocide in Darfur

Young people in Los Angeles are actively engaged in the fight to save Darfur, as witnessed by a recent Sunday afternoon gathering at the Federal Building in Westwood. The rally, organized by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), attracted about 300 supporters, including some bearing signs urging, “Honk if you’re opposed to genocide.”

“It was cool to see it all come together,” said TAG founder Shira Shane, a New Community Jewish High School senior, who started the group earlier this year. “This was a communitywide effort, not just the Jewish community.”

Shane said the event was a collaboration of students from high schools throughout the Los Angeles area. TAG membership “exploded exponentially,” according to Shane, who said more students signed up at the rally.

“This is a spectacular group of kids and the most successful aspect of our organization,” noted Janice Kamenir-Reznik, executive director and co-founder of Jewish World Watch (JWW), who mentored TAG and co-sponsored the rally.

Participants included area rabbis and ministers, representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Dr. Bruce Powell, New Community Jewish High School headmaster.

“Even though it’s a cold day, it can’t penetrate our warm hearts,” the Rev. Cecil Murray told the crowd. “These young people are giving up their time and talents, and with so many pulls, are prioritizing something as huge as genocide.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) stopped by to say “thanks” when she noticed tents set up by the organization, Camp Darfur. “It was a pleasant surprise to find teens against genocide,” said Waters, who told the rally that she had recently been to Sudan, and it was more horrible than they could imagine.

“They’re not just talking tikkun olam (heal the world); they’re seeing it, and they’re teaching their parents,” said Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Jewish World Watch co-founder. “These kids crave idealism, which reminds me of the spirit of the ’60s. There’s a difference in learning history and making history. They’re making history.” — MM

9/11 Museum Head Uses Shoah Lessons


Alice Greenwald vividly recalls touring the Auschwitz concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor and watching how the woman shared her story with her children and grandchildren.

It was as if she was trying to instruct her heirs as to the kind of people she wanted them to become, Greenwald remembers.

“What struck me about that experience was that in a world that exists after something like Auschwitz happens, every one of us is her grandchildren,” she said. “We all are obligated to understand what it means to be a human being and the kind of people our parents and grandparents want us to be.”

For more than two decades, Greenwald has been helping to give people a palpable understanding of the Holocaust through her work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Beginning this month, she will turn her attention to another terrible atrocity: Greenwald was named in February as the first director of the World Trade Center Memorial Museum in New York, which will commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their nearly 3,000 victims.

“Where the two [events] intersect for me in my professional life is in the area of memorialization,” she said recently in her Holocaust Museum office in Washington. “We deal with great loss here at this museum, incomprehensible loss. And we deal with trying to integrate that loss into our collective understanding of history, our personal history of what it means to be a human being.”

Greenwald was a member of the Holocaust Museum’s original design team, working from home as a consultant after stints with Jewish museums in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. She joined the museum full-time in 2001 as its associate director for museum programs.

Gretchen Dykstra, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, said Greenwald immediately understood the memorial’s goals.

“What struck us so quickly was how immediately she understood the sensitivity of what we were doing,” she said. “She’s not somebody who comes knowing a lot about 9/11, but she knows a lot about memorializing and education.”

The hardest part in designing the New York museum, Greenwald said, is that “there isn’t a human being on the face of the planet who doesn’t have a 9/11 story.”

Greenwald herself was unpacking boxes in her new Washington home on that day, having just moved from Philadelphia. Her husband, on an Amtrak train bound for New York, had called to ask if she knew why he and his business associates weren’t moving.

The carpenter working in her home heard her gasp when she turned on the television. They watched the second tower fall together, and immediately embraced.

“This was a man I knew for 10 minutes,” she said. “And we hugged each other in an embrace, watching the television in complete disbelief, because we needed to be with another human being in that moment.”

Emotions are still very raw for those who survived the Sept. 11 attack, and for the families of those who died. But Greenwald has experience dealing directly with survivors and families who may visit the museum.

“Other museums have other constituency issues, but I don’t think they have to deal with the sensitivities we have [at the Holocaust Museum],” she said. “We are immensely fortunate to have the voice of authentic witnesses.”

The proximity in time to the event will be one of her biggest challenges in New York, she said.

“The institution will have to be flexible, because the world will keep moving forward and we don’t know what events will re-characterize our understanding of 9/11,” she said.

She has watched the Holocaust Museum evolve, noting that it was built before “Schindler’s List” and other mass-media portrayals of the Shoah.

The Sept. 11 museum will be part of several structures planned for the area where the World Trade Center stood. The foundation is constructing the museum and a separate memorial, Reflecting Absence, that will honor those killed on Sept. 11 and in a previous attack at the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993.

A visitor’s center and performing arts building also are being planned. Half the site has been zoned for new office buildings, which are being erected separately.

The museum will highlight the magnitude of the attacks, as well as the global response and civic rebuilding.

“You are dealing with a site that is a burial site. People died there. That gives it a sacred quality one has to respect,” Greenwald said.

She compared it to the Holocaust Museum, which she said garners its power from its proximity to other memorials and buildings of power in Washington.

Dykstra said she has been struck by the Holocaust Museum’s impact on visitors, and hopes to replicate that.

“I think what the Holocaust Museum does so beautifully is it takes a historic series of events and personalizes them in a way that universalizes them,” she said. “It’s overwhelming but not didactic.”

The Sept. 11 museum is slated to open on the eighth anniversary of the attacks, in 2009. Greenwald said there is much to be done before then, and she is excited to be a part of this “thrilling” stage of a museum’s birth.

“Each stage will have its own challenges and its own rewards,” she said. She calls it a “Dayenu situation,” saying that if she can at least advance the plans, it would be enough — although she hopes to see the museum built and operating.

“We have to remember that it’s about people,” she said. “There’s a tendency to want to memorialize the building, and there is some significance to that. But this is not a memorial to a building; it’s a memorial to people.”

 

Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah


The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.

“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”

Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.

Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.

At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.

“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”

Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.

“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”

The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.

“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”

In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.

“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.

“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”

 

Guilt Judo


Rosh Hashanah dinner. My friend — like me, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors — settles into the seat next to his grandfather. The two exchange pleasantries. Then my friend mentions that he’s recently taken his toddler on her first choo-choo ride.

“Trains,” says the grandfather. He splays his hands on the tablecloth, and sighs. “I remember when they put us on a train. This was during the transport from the ghetto to the first work camp.”

The story of the grandfather’s wartime suffering — tragic, inexorable, hypnotic in its familiarity — spins out as the Rosh Hashanah meal is brought to the table, served, and consumed.

“But that’s history,” the grandfather intones at last, as the plates are gathered. “Life is for the young.”

A college buddy of mine — Jewish, though not a descendant of survivors — once observed that his family dynamics follow the rules of a sport: Guilt Judo. The sport requires a range of moves: arm-twists, throws, the art of the pin. Grace and style matter, and it is, of course, imperative to master that most fundamental skill: learning to fall without injury.

“Oh. You’re home. No, it’s just that I thought you’d be home an hour ago. It’s OK, it’s just that the dinner got dry and ruined in the oven. And your uncle went home. He was upset not to see you, though he didn’t want to let on. So tell me, how was your drive?”

To play successfully, my friend maintained, you need to understand the rules. Family obligations pin the needs of single people. The needs of the elders pin the needs of the young (except when said young are infants). Safety pins punctuality.

Q: Why were you late?

A: I wanted to come earlier, but the roads were wet…. I just didn’t want to take the chance.

You get the idea.

The Holocaust pins everything.

Many Holocaust-survivor families — at least the ones I’ve encountered — have powerful vocabulary for everyday troubles. The missed phone call is terrible, as is the stained blouse. The over-seasoned soup? Disaster.

Disaster, in fact, lurks around the most innocent-looking corners. Mountains hang by a thread. I’ve known survivors who are impossibly controlling in day-to-day life — worried about the weather and the canned goods in the pantry; consumed with planning for traffic patterns; beside themselves because you haven’t made reservations, dressed for the cold, put a dust-ruffle on your child’s bed (“It’s hygienic!”). They seem nearly undone by humdrum disorder.

Yet in an emergency they shine. They turn into the heroes you always knew them to be. To varying degrees the same goes, I believe, for us children and grandchildren of survivors. Calm waters may disorient us, yes; small matters may evoke overblown responses. But when you’re raised to anticipate disaster, it’s no big deal when it comes. (The one time when, living in a group house in college, I actually had to say, “Mom, I have to get off the phone, the house is on fire,” my mother barely batted an eye.)

Here is what my mother says about her own mother: She would threaten to jump out the window when she was upset. She would open the door of a moving car and threaten to jump.

Though I didn’t have many years with my grandmother — she died when I was 5 — I adored her. She was a brilliant, artistic, beautiful, rebellious woman who’d lost her community and most of her family in the war. Her hard-won law degree (not a small achievement for a woman in 1930s Poland) was useless in post-war New York.

“She would say she was going to kill herself,” my mother says, “then lock herself in the bathroom for an hour.”

It was only in my 20s that I read Helen Epstein’s “Children of the Holocaust” — a book first published in 1979, with page after page detailing nearly identical behavior. Children standing anxiously outside bathroom doors. Parents enclosed in darkness.

My grandfather told me to have six children. (“They killed one-third of us. We need numbers.”) He said I wasn’t safe in the United States (“We thought we were safe in Poland.”) He counseled me endlessly to remember the stories of the Holocaust. If we grandchildren did not remember no one would. This truism was solemnly echoed in my Jewish school and summer camps. To remember, to remember actively, was to ensure that these things could not happen again. To forget was to let the survivors’ experiences wither away. To forget was to let Hitler’s victims die all over again.

There was never any danger, for children and grandchildren of survivors, of forgetting.

At every Holocaust-related lecture I have attended, there is one. She stands on line for the Q-&-A microphone — it’s usually a she. You can see her coming. Waiting behind distinguished professors, doctoral candidates and a few elderly Holocaust survivors who wearily, politely, offer small corrections of fact to a scattering of interested hums.

She waits on line. Pent up, straining forward, her hair white or perhaps heavily dyed. Something about her dress is often strange — the colors too bright or the blouse askew, the buttons of her sweater misaligned. When at last she reaches the microphone, she seizes upon something one of the speakers has said: the American graduate student’s stray assertion that most refugees traveled a certain route, or perhaps the French professor’s assessment that in the wake of Chirac’s historic speech and the creation of a commission to enact individual restitution, the French government’s rapprochement is, at long last, finished.

“No.” This woman’s hand chops the air. “My uncle traveled this route. My aunt was imprisoned. My cousin traveled a different route so this is not true what you say, that Jews traveled only the Vladivostok route. There was another.”

Often she holds documents, which she reads from in a quavering, accented voice: the aunt’s prison papers. Her voice strains with fury at the betrayal she has just heard.

“Here is the documentation. I brought the documentation. My family was in France. It is not finished.”

The sheaf of pages rattles. Her voice is thick with rage.

This is an academic setting. It is not a place for fury. Of course her specific case may be true, but this is irrelevant to larger historic questions. Speakers are lined up behind her, eyes averted, faces impassive; the session is running late; every extra minute is coming out of the lunch break. Someone rises — everyone has been waiting for someone to rise — and takes the microphone from her: “Thank you. Others are waiting. Your contribution is appreciated.”

I come to think of this woman — this survivor who refuses to be polite — as a Jewish prophet, a wrathful Job or omnipresent, ever-witnessing Elijah. Long after the last of the survivors has died, she will continue to appear at lectures: throwing a wrench into academic discussion, rattling her sheaf of papers, raging with the choking grievances of Lamentations.

I am wrong about this. She will not visit these gatherings eternally. In a few years she’ll be dead.

In college and after, I was periodically asked to speak at Holocaust-commemoration events — I’ve been entrusted with stories. I’ve researched and written fiction and nonfiction about the Holocaust and its aftermath. I’ve felt, all my life, fiercely protective of survivors. And now, as I watch them enter old age, many with a prodigious, stunned contentment at having made it there at all, I understand it’s my job to keep the flame lit.

But does that mean suiting up for a lifetime match of guilt judo?

Perpetuating memory, passing on the stories of the survivors I love: I’ve been committed to these things as long as I can remember. The horrors that were done, and the pure human evil displayed by the doers, need to be known and pondered today and always. But I don’t think that gives me carte blanche to use the Holocaust in any way that happens to feel satisfying. And I don’t believe the point of never again is to render everyone reverent unto silence; to pin everyone else’s suffering to the mat until the end of time.

I refuse to be so intimidated by guilt that I don’t speak up against what I see as misuses of the victims’ memory. I’ve seen Holocaust-education programs that seemed so invested in emphasizing Jewish annihilation that they couldn’t tolerate acknowledging that some Eastern European Jews are still alive. (The March of the Living, an international program that brings teens to visit the Polish concentration camps, initially prohibited Polish Jewish teens from participating.) I’ve met students who can tell you all about Auschwitz but nothing about the pre-genocide lives of the Jews who were murdered there. I’ve been rebuked for my participation in German-Jewish dialogues (“I can’t believe you talk to them”) by a second-generation writer who told me he thinks a 5-year-old German is culpable; I’ve heard the same writer tell audiences, to applause, that Jews have no business living in Europe today. (Isn’t that what Hitler said?)

By birthright, I’m a natural-born black belt. I know the moves. But here is what I now wish I had asked my college friend: What happens to the people who win at guilt judo? If we pin all comers, what then? What is the game’s endpoint?

Like it or not, we’re in this together: descendants of victims, of bystanders, of perpetrators, locked in our holds, straining. Guilt judo isn’t going away any time soon, because the sport was invented for a reason. It’s a wearying but sometimes necessary way of making sure unredressable wrongs are at least acknowledged–making sure you get heard. We all know how to play it, whether recreationally or in self-defense, in our families or in politics.

Of course, this endless contest is not limited to those affected by the Holocaust. Look around and you’ll notice that most of the globe — at least wherever the philosophy of might makes right has evolved into blessed is the lamb–is engrossed in its own intergroup matches. Black vs. Jews (how dare they compare slavery to the Holocaust); Native Americans vs. African Americans (slaughter to slavery); Palestinians vs. Jews (their suffering to ours?).; Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Jew vs. Muslim vs. Hindu. The Hatfields have suffered — but the McCoys have suffered more. You say your population was decimated? Decimated is one-tenth of your population wiped out. Decimated would have been an improvement, compared to what happened to us.

But exactly what — in our homes, in our political conferences — is the point of the game? What is the point of determining who hurts more; whether my tears were more important than yours; whether the Holocaust was worse than slavery? Does it render the opponent’s suffering lesser, unmentionable? Does it guarantee sympathy? Love? Compensation? A better future? Does it work?

We all conduct ourselves as if we believe it does. And sometimes we’re right –sometimes guilt judo is an effective tool for important practical ends. But it’s also, if we’re not careful, poisonous: “You were only in Auschwitz for two weeks. I was there two years. What did you survive? You have no right to call yourself a survivor.”

The person who makes such a declaration is not malevolent; he or she has simply been destroyed in spirit.

May I say something, now, about guilt? I think it has a bad name. American culture presumes guilt is something manipulative, something to be washed away with a good jet of therapy. Guilt, though, is nothing more than a cue that we have a choice to make: Do something to repair the situation, or accept it and move on.

Guilt is a powerful, important road sign. The trick is to remember that it’s not the destination. In truth, it’s a fundamental error to believe that the word for the burden we all carry — we children and grandchildren and neighbors and acquaintances of survivors — is guilt.

I don’t feel guilty about the Holocaust. (I didn’t do it.) Nor do I feel guilty because my family survived. And now that I’m an adult, I no longer feel any guilt about the contrast between my own privileged life and the traumas my family endured. My grandparents wanted me to have a good, safe life; if tragedy should befall me, I know how fervently I’d wish my own children a joyous life. My family’s legacy neither devalues my own experiences, nor does it make me somehow holy. It just means I inherited a history, transmitted by people doing the best they could. So now I need to do the best I can.

What I feel is not guilt — it’s responsibility.

I don’t care who suffered the most. All I care is what we do about the Holocaust’s legacy now, for the generations behind and ahead of us. Getting mired in guilt (mine, yours, theirs) is a waste of all our time. There may be infinite ways to feel guilty about the Holocaust, but the “Your life is good and they died” varieties and the “How dare you compare other people’s suffering to ours” varieties are moral dead ends.

The only one worth sweating over is the one that asks, “What are you going to do about it?”

I have a responsibility to carry on my relatives’ stories; to speak out about anti-Semitism and racism when I encounter them; to do my small part to keep crosscultural dialogue going; to make sure victims’ individuality isn’t lost in thickets of tragedy; to respond actively when I see harm being done, and to avoid posturing and self-importance in the process. I have a responsibility, too, to make sure I enjoy life’s wonders to the fullest. I would be remiss if I neglected to laugh; to make the most of this country’s freedoms; to teach my toddler how to imitate a pterodactyl, talk to the moon and delight in a train ride.

Memory fades. Tomorrow’s children will never know survivors. The responsibilities I bear have no statute of limitations; I’ll always do my best to protect the survivors and their legacy. But that doesn’t change the fact that the history of the Holocaust will grow distant, even abstract. No amount of guilt judo can prevent this. And while strenuously broadcasting that the Holocaust was worse than any other human suffering may be justified, it can’t keep the survivors alive any more than it can undo what happened … and it is going to damage us.

If the memory of the Holocaust recedes, let it not be because I failed to do my part to keep it alive–I’m committed to that labor. But if the Holocaust comes, in some unknown number of generations, to occupy a smaller place on our cultural landscape, I don’t see this as cause for guilt. The point isn’t to pin everyone else ad infinitum, but to carry forward the important pieces of memory so that people see, and understand, and act differently in the world because this happened.

If we can accomplish that, then whenever it comes, the inevitable decrescendo of memory — which some will call abomination and others will call healing — will be, in truth, neither. It will simply be life. It won’t signal that we’ve failed — that we’ve let down the Holocaust’s survivors or, worse, its victims — but rather that we’ve simply, regretfully, tragically, hopefully, moved forward. And that has nothing to do with wrestling each other to the mat, and everything to do with standing up.

Excerpted from “Guilt Judo” by Rachel Kadish from “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” edited by Ruth Andrew Ellenson. (Dutton, $24). Copyright (c) 2005 by Rachel Kadish.

Rachel Kadish is the author of “From a Sealed Room,” as well as numerous short stories and essays. She has been a fiction fellow of the NEA and was the recipient of last year’s Koret Foundation Young Writer on Jewish Themes Award. Her new novel, “Love [sic],” will be published by Houghton Mifflin next year.

March Connects Students to Shoah


With 15 years of Jewish day school education under his belt, Marc Marrero had a plan for college.

“I was going to graduate from Milken, come to college and basically have my Jewish life back home, and I was going to completely forget about Judaism when I came to college,” said Marrero, a freshman at Tufts University in Boston.

That plan was “flipped upside down” after he attended March of the Living last April, spending a week in Poland and a week in Israel with thousands of teens from all over the world and forming a bond with a Holocaust survivor who became like a grandfather to him.

“The first thing I did when I came to Tufts was go to Hillel,” Marrero said. He also advocates for Israel, and made an effort to find Shabbat services that are meaningful to him.

It is reactions such as Marrero’s that has given March of the Living such widespread support both among those interested in perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust and those interested in building positive Jewish identity — two camps that often find themselves at odds.

With the anniversary of Kristallnacht this week, the ongoing debate around whether to put scarce community resources into Holocaust memorials or into Jewish education re-emerges. In this touchy context, March of the Living seems to have carved out a niche where memorializing tragedy and fostering positive Jewish identity come together in such a way as to deflect criticism and to attract broad support from educators and community leaders.

In cities around the United States, including Los Angeles, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) often acts as a local planner for the trip, and community money subsidizes its roughly $3,500 price tag. The BJE in Los Angeles this year is sending an adult group, and is also making the trip a yearly rather than biannual event, as it has been for the past decade.

“This is not a horror and sadness trip. It’s not just about concentration camps and death camps, not about Nazis,” said Phil Liff-Grieff, BJE’s associate director, who has attended with groups twice. “It’s really about having the opportunity to think about who we are in a very powerful conversation with our past.”

This year, the international March of the Living is boosting promotion efforts in an attempt to get 18,000 Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers and adults — nearly three times the yearly average — for the May 2005 trip, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.

At Milken Community High School, which sent 12 students last year, recruitment efforts are underway to get as many as possible of the 138 seniors to go this year, an idea Marrero thinks is a good one.

“I got a really good Jewish education, but I never really understood the immediacy of why I needed that education and the role it needed to play in my life. There was this disconnect, and the march really made Judaism a part of my life,” Marrero said. “It has given me a calling, or a task.”

About 100,000 teens worldwide have gone on March of the Living since the first trip in 1988. Every year, local delegations from around the world spend a week in Poland, touring erstwhile shtetls and concentrations camps. The week culminates on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with 6,000 teens, chaperones and survivors in matching blue jackets marching with Israeli flags from Auschwitz to Burkina.

After Poland the groups head to Israel, where they celebrate Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The combination of understanding the richness of what was once there, how it was lost, and then how Israel rose from the ashes to become what is today, in a milieu with peers from around the world, proves to be an intense experience for teens.

To aid the teens in processing the information, a social worker attends the trip, and work is done in small groups before, during and after the trip itself.

“Even though the experience was intense and very emotionally and mentally challenging to deal with, I think ultimately the intensity of the experience is what lit up the passion inside of us to go out and carry the message of what we learned,” said Miri Cypers, a Milken graduate who now attends Barnard College. “One of the most important messages of the trip was how to take history and take the tragedy of the past and still continue to find meaning and depth in everyday life.”

That message was brought home by the presence of Nandor “Marko” Markovic, a survivor who attended with last year’s Los Angeles group (see sidebar).

“Marko’s response and his way of dealing with things — and the way I’ve come to view the world — is that you have to respond to injustice with humanity,” Marrero said.

Markovic built intense bonds with the group, telling them his story of surviving through six concentration camps when he was younger than most of them.

“I never got to meet my grandfather, but Marko filled that void in my life,” said Marrero. “I’ve never learned such important lessons from anyone as I did from him. It was unbelievable to be able to meet someone you didn’t know before and two weeks later feel like you’ve learned the most important lessons of life on how to deal with yourself and how to confront humanity and how to deal with evil in the world.”

Both Marrero and Cypers tell of their experience in the small town of Tykocin in Poland, where they stood in desolation looking at the barely visible relics of a wooden Magen David on what was once the rabbi’s house in a thriving community. The group suddenly heard loud noises coming from the 500-year-old synagogue that had been salvaged as a museum. They entered, and found hundreds of March of the Living participants from around the world singing and dancing.

“I could see Marko just started to weep, because this was a tangible moment where we could see how we were bringing back life that [which] was decimated,” Cypers said.

It was Marko’s first time back to Auschwitz since he lost his parents and several siblings there, and he said it was the kids who carried him through the trip, and gave him the strength to continue on the 3-kilometer march.

“With my generation going, the whole story will go to academia,” Markovic said. “If we bond with these kids, they will remember it emotionally rather than academically.”

That was the thinking behind the creation of March of the Living. Israeli Knesset Member Avraham Hirchson saw that Israeli teens did not know anything about the Holocaust, and he wanted to be sure that Israelis and Jews worldwide could bear witness to the destruction. Along the way, the larger idea of building Jewish identity arose.

“I am convinced that March of the Living has such an impact on these youngsters, that without modesty I will predict that they will represent the future leadership of the Jewish people all over the world,” said Freddy Diamond, a survivor of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who founded Los Angeles’s citywide Yom Hashoah program and attended the march five times over 10 years.

While in Auschwitz, Diamond showed the teens the block where his brother, a leader of the little-known resistance in Auschwitz, was tortured and then where he was hanged in front of 15,000 inmates.

Markovic showed them where he stood when he shooed his little sister to go stand with their mother and other siblings; they were among thousands killed that day.

But more than reliving the tragedy, the survivors provide inspiration. It is a difficult trip for the aging survivors, but one they see as key not only to remembering their lost families, but as central to the Jewish future.

“What is the impact of the trip to Poland and Israel?” Diamond asked. “I can say it in one sentence: For the first time in their lives, these youngsters know what a privilege it is to be Jewish.”

Applications are now available for March of the Living 2005. For more information, visit www.motl.org or www.bjela.org, or call (323) 761-8605.

Only Iranian Shoah Survivor Shares Life


In August 1939, Menashe Ezrapour could have escaped the horrors of the Holocaust by boarding a train in the French city of Grenoble, but instead, he chose to stay, ultimately becoming the only known Shoah survivor of Iranian Jewish descent interned in concentration and work camps during World War II.

Recently, Ezrapour, 86, came forward for the first time in more than 60 years to publicly share his story of survival, perhaps bringing the local Persian Jewish community closer to the Shoah.

A number of Holocaust experts, including ones from Yad Vashem in Israel, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Ezrapour is probably one of the few — if not the only — Iranian Jewish survivors held captive in the camps during WW II.

“To my knowledge, I have not heard of any Iranian Jews being held in camps during the war,” said Aaron Brightbart, head researcher at the Wiesenthal Center.

Upon learning of Ezrapour’s Shoah experience, several local Iranian Jewish leaders said his story may personalize the Holocaust for Iranian Jews who in the past may not have been as impacted by its effects as most European Jewry was.

“We [Iranian Jewry] have always felt a close bond with the Shoah,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. “This new revelation for the community just makes it so close to a personal experience for us.”

Talking with The Journal at his residence on Wilshire Boulevard near Westwood, Ezrapour can still recall the names, dates and events surrounding his internment in various camps in southern France.

Ezrapour’s life-altering experience began when he and his brother, Edward, left their home in the Iranian city of Hamadan and went to Paris in September 1938 to pursue higher education. In August 1939, Ezrapour and his brother journeyed to Grenoble in southeastern France. Shortly afterward, when war in Europe seemed imminent, they decided to return to Iran.

“As we were preparing to leave, my friend from Baghdad, Maurice, who was an Iraqi Jew, encouraged me to stay,” Ezrapour said.

His brother returned to Iran, but Ezrapour remained in Grenoble and continued his engineering education at a local university. For the next three years, Ezrapour said that neither France’s German occupiers nor the Vichy government bothered him. However, he was eventually forced to register as a Jew in 1941, because Vichy laws required Jews to identify themselves.

In late 1942, he and several hundred Jews in the area were rounded up and sent to nearby detention camps. The French police took Ezrapour to a work camp called Uriage. He said the prisoners there were worried that they’d be deported to Germany.

“After one month there, I got permission to return to Grenoble for two days, and I never returned to the camp,” Ezrapour recalled.

Ezrapour said he stayed in the Grenoble home of a Christian woman for two weeks and used false identification papers to get around. He was ultimately arrested after the Christian woman was tricked by a police officer into revealing his whereabouts.

After 45 days in jail, Ezrapour said he was convicted of using false papers and sentenced to serve 40 more days in the Shapoli work camp. From Shapoli, he and other Jewish prisoners were taken to the infamous Gurs concentration camp, 50 miles from the Spanish border.

According to the “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust” (Facts on File, 2000), Gurs was the first and one of the largest concentration camps in France, with approximately 60,000 prisoners held there from 1939 to 1945. According to the 1993 book, “Gurs: An Internment Camp In France,” the internees included approximately 23,000 Spanish Republican soldiers who had fled Franco’s Spain in 1939, 7,000 International Brigade volunteers, 120 French resistance members and more than 21,000 Jews from all over Europe.

Ezrapour said living conditions were unbearable at Gurs, with too many people crowded together into small barracks and very little food.

“Every day, the only food available was one bowl of watered-down turnip soup and 75 grams of bread, which is the size of a teaspoon,” Ezrapour said.

Gurs held thousands of Jews prior to their final deportation to the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor in Eastern Europe. However, more than 1,000 detainees at Gurs died of hunger, typhoid fever, dysentery and extreme cold conditions , according to the “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.”

After a month at Gurs, Ezrapour said he and 40 other prisoners were sent to a work camp in southern France called Meyreuil near Marseilles, instead of being deported with thousands of other Jews to Auschwitz.

“After two days there [at Meyreuil], an officer issuing identification cards asked me if I was Jewish, and I told him I was not, and he luckily did not identify me as a Jew,” Ezrapour said. “This was an incredible miracle, because later in 1944, two Gestapo officers came to the camp and saw my Jewish name on the list and asked for me. The camp commandant told them I was an Iranian-Iraqi, and they didn’t ask for me any further.”

Ezrapour said he was subsequently sent to labor long hours in the coal mines near Meyreuil. He also worked as an electrician.

In August 1944, Ezrapour said, Meyreuil was liberated by American forces, and he left the camp. He sought refuge with rebels in the Spanish underground living in a nearby border town.

For the remainder of the war, Ezrapour returned to Grenoble, where he completed his education in engineering. He returned to Iran in June 1946 and worked in the automotive spare parts business.

Despite enduring tremendous hardships at camps, Ezrapour said the experience has not made him bitter but only reinforced his belief in God.

“After witnessing all of the miracles I encountered then, I have always been grateful to God,” Ezrapour said. “I had, and still have, a strong belief in God and his powers, that’s what got me through the experience.”

The list of Dachau prisoners in Paul Berben’s book, “Dachau 1933-1945: The Official History” (Norfolk Press, 1975), indicates that there was one survivor of Iranian nationality at the camp in Germany when it was liberated by U.S. forces in April 1945. However, the list does not identify the prisoner’s religion. Berben’s book also indicates that non-Jews were also interned in Dachau during World War II.

Records from Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names reveals that a total of five Jews born in Iran perished in the Holocaust.

This past April, the Wiesenthal Center posthumously honored the Abdol Hossein Sardari, the Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time. In addition, Sardari was also honored for saving several hundred non-Iranian Jews in Paris in 1942 by giving them Iranian passports to escape Nazi persecution.

Ezrapour said that while he did not encounter any other Iranian Jews during his internment in the French camps, most Iranian Jews he has known over the years have expressed great sorrow over the loss of their brethren at the hands of the Nazis.

“They do feel great pain, because their co-religionist brothers were murdered,” Ezrapour said. “Perhaps my experience will give them a better idea of the seriousness of what happened.”

Teach Your Children Well


After videotaping the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors during the past seven years, a foundation created by filmmaker Steven Spielberg will now shift its focus to an even more daunting task, a worldwide educational campaign against prejudice, intolerance and bigotry.

Spielberg, who launched the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation following the global impact of his film "Schindler’s List," termed the completion of an archive holding 51,661 eyewitness testimonies "a dream that became a remarkable reality."

Each of the interviewed survivors has become "a teacher, putting a real face, a real voice, a real experience in front of this and future generations," Spielberg said. "The archive is their perpetual link to our expanded long-range objectives of remembrance and education."

Using state-of-the-art media technology, the educational effort will be aimed particularly at a new generation of students, said Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation.

"We will pursue this effort with the same urgency as our original mission of interviewing aging survivors," Greenberg said in a phone interview. "We hope to change not only how people think, but how they behave."

To oversee the outreach program, the Shoah Foundation is establishing an Education Department, with an annual budget of $2 million. An international search for a director to head the department is now under way.

Parallel to the new program, 69 cataloguers and researchers are tackling the mammoth task of reviewing and indexing the 117,000 hours of testimonies by men and women — from 57 countries and speaking in 32 languages — who either survived concentration camps, were in hiding during the Holocaust, lived under Nazi rule or rescued Jews.

It would take a single person, scanning the videos 24 hours a day, more than 13 years to finish the job.

As it is, it will take the staff four more years to link the archived material through 25,000 key words. The time period would have been much longer but for an innovative technology developed in-house, which allows one person to catalogue a single testimony (usually two hours long, but running up to five hours) in half a day, instead of the previous one week.

The final result, Greenberg believes, will be the largest available video database in the world, usable by scholars, teachers, students, and eventually the general public.

Some of the testimonies are already viewable at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and other designated repositories will be at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University, and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Greenberg is now looking for additional "strategic partnerships" and a permanent office has opened in Berlin.

"Our focus is not only on the United States, but the whole world," he added. "We’re particularly interested in Europe, where the Holocaust took place and which still faces ethnic and religious conflicts."

The Shoah Foundation has also reversed its previous ban against making the testimonies available on the Internet, to avoid misuse by hate groups and others.

Now, said Greenberg, "We won’t put the entire archive on the Internet, but we’ll have some significant chunks of it. We’ll find a sensible and secure way to do this."

Some testimonies can be viewed on the Shoah Foundation’s Web site: www.vhf.org.

The Foundation already has a head start in its educational outreach, mainly through CD-ROMs and film documentaries.

One CD-ROM titled "Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust" is being used in American and German schools, while prize-winning documentaries include "The Last Days," (a 1998 Oscar recipient), "Survivors of the Holocaust" and "The Lost Children of Berlin."

Now completed or in the works are documentaries by five international directors, drawing on survivors’ testimonies in their own languages. "Some Who Lived" (Argentina), "Eyes of the Holocaust" (Hungary) and "I Remember" (Poland) have already debuted in their countries.

To be shown later this year are "Hell on Earth" (Czech Republic) and "Children of the Abyss" (Russia).

The entire series, titled "Broken Silence," will be broadcast on Cinemax next year. To underwrite its ambitious programs, the Foundation, whose current annual budget is $12.8 million (including salaries for 140 employees), is stepping up its fundraising efforts.

Greenberg would not specify a figure, saying, "We’ll raise as much as we can, as fast as we can."

Will the Shoah Foundation ever complete its mission and close up shop?

"When we first started in 1994, we thought that after collecting 50,000 survivor testimonies, our mission would be completed," he responded.

Bigotry still exists, however, acting as a seedbed for some future Holocaust. Thus, a "final victory" is not in sight.

Greenberg summarized: "We started as a project, and are now on our way to becoming an institution."

Unintended Consequences


“I tell you, there was never a trip like this before. The motives are terribly sad, but we are going to have a lot of fun. This is another dimension of history.” With these words, Arnost Lustig and Jan Wiener, both Jewish survivors of the Shoah, embark on a trip to the Europe of their childhoods, documented in the film “Fighter.” Premiering at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, “Fighter” is a unique exploration of both the Holocaust and the Communist era of Eastern Europe.

The documentary is distinctive, in part, because Wiener and Lustig choose to focus on stories that tend to get soft-pedaled in favor of episodes portraying stoicism, heroic sacrifice and fighting spirit. While “Fighter” was originally envisioned as a historical biography, the focus turns more toward the relationship between Wiener and Lustig, whose friendship deteriorates during their trip as their conflicting personalities and divergent stories of survival give rise to one confrontation after another.

Director Amir Bar-Lev’s first feature-length film, “Fighter” makes intriguing use of the two survivors’ narratives, along with war footage, Nazi and Communist propaganda, and beautiful images of the European countryside to take the viewer on a journey through history and the human mind. It’s an unorthodox treatment of the Holocaust that gives the viewer a unique perspective on the damage exacted by not only by victimization but by heroism.

“Fighter” will have its world premiere on Fri., April 14, 11 a.m., with another screening Sun., April 16, 11 a.m. at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $8.50 at the box office, over the phone at (888) ETM-TIXS or on the Internet at www.etm.com. The “Fighter” Web site is at www.fighterfilm.com.