Grandchildren’s ‘miracle’ wedding unites families who escaped nazis in Vienna


Lilly Baer and Stella Dubey both grew up in 1930s Vienna. 

Both lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht.

And on May 29, both found themselves around the same chuppah as their grandchildren — Brian Faber and Rachel Warner, respectively — wed at the Four Seasons hotel in Westlake Village.

“When I found out, I just couldn’t believe that we lived in the same [area in Vienna] and our families didn’t know each other,” said Dubey, 85. “It makes all of this seem ordained, that two generations later our grandchildren would meet and start a Jewish home together.” 

Warner, a Milken Community Schools grad and fashion merchandiser, believes the history she shares with her husband’s family is symbolic of something much larger, especially for her grandmother. 

“That history is so important to her. It’s a victory in her eyes,” she said. “The Nazis tried to kill them off, and [Brian] and I still managed to find each other. That Jewish love still found its way in America is incredible to her.” 

“That’s our perspective of it, too,” added Faber, who works for a family-owned Beverly Hills-based jewelry business. “It’s a miracle. We wouldn’t have even existed if they hadn’t survived. It’s pretty amazing.”

Baer, as a teenager, and Dubey, as a child, lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in November 1938 that left about 100 Jews dead, many Jewish homes and synagogues destroyed, and shards of glass littering the streets. 

“It was on a Thursday. I have never liked Thursdays since then,” said Baer, 92, who was 14 at the time. “I woke up to SS officers in my bedroom. All the men in my family were arrested. It was very scary. I was in bed for three days after. It affected me terribly.” 

Dubey, who was 8, recalls far fewer details, but said the pervading panic is impossible to forget. 

“They didn’t really explain to little kids what was happening,” Dubey said. “All you knew as a child was one emotion. You just felt fear.”

Originally from Poland before being forced to flee due to Cossack persecution, Dubey’s family lived in the poorer Orthodox section of Vienna, a stone’s throw from Wiener Riesenrad, the city’s famous Ferris wheel. Meanwhile, Baer’s family, Austrian going back several generations, lived blocks away in another neighborhood mostly inhabited by less observant, typically wealthier Viennese Jews. 

“When Hitler came, we were all the same. Poor Orthodox, richer Viennese — Hitler wanted to get rid of us all,” Dubey said. 

At the end of 1938 — the year Germany annexed Austria — Dubey’s mother registered with the German government for permission to depart for New York, where the family had relatives. Germany wasn’t at war with the United States yet, which made this feasible. Still, as she traveled to the port of Hamburg, she feared that at any moment the Germans would remove her and place her on the train her father ended up on, which transported him to his death at Buchenwald. 

From Hamburg, Dubey and her mother sailed for New York, then drove cross country to Los Angeles, where she has lived since her junior high days. The transition to American life wasn’t easy. Overcoming the death of her father, learning a new language and adjusting to a foreign culture made for a tough adolescence. 

She went on to marry Michael, now 91, a former engineer with Lockheed Martin and a tank platoon commander with the U.S. Army in Okinawa during World War II. A stay-at-home mother who has spent many years volunteering with seniors, Dubey has three children and five grandchildren, and she relishes the fact that the branches of her family tree continue to grow and extend outward. 

“I feel so comfortable knowing that Hitler didn’t win and isn’t winning,” Dubey said. “He may have tried to destroy some of us, but some of us got through and came together, and we’ll have happy Jewish lives and have happy Jewish children.” 

Around the same time that Dubey’s family was preparing to flee Europe, Baer’s mother was set on leaving Vienna, fearing the worst was yet to come. Ultimately, they left for Italy, where they stayed for 11 months before gaining permission to depart on one of the last passenger ships allowed to sail. Everyone in Baer’s family besides Baer and her parents perished in the war. 

Baer’s first stop in the United States was Ohio, where the family had relatives, but after a few years they moved to L.A. That’s where Baer met her husband, Henry, an Auschwitz survivor, at a Chanukah dance. Although Baer wishes her husband, a toymaker and designer who died at age 53, could have lived to see Brian’s wedding, she’s satisfied with getting to bear witness for the both of them. 

“I’m very happy. The girl is beautiful. My grandson is beautiful. They both hit the jackpot. Everything turned out good,” she said about the recent simcha.

Faber, 36, and Warner, 28, met while at a wedding six years ago. They first stumbled upon a shared Austrian heritage when they both recognized the tune of an Austrian nursery rhyme they heard sung by their grandmothers growing up. They even discovered both had relatives with the last name “Schwartz” at a certain point going back several generations. Then the grandmothers got to talking. 

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who has served Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom congregation for 25 years and known the Warner family for even longer, officiated the recent nuptials. He said the broader significance of the occasion was on his mind while standing under the chuppah and staring out at family members in attendance.  

“The rabbi has a very special place in the wedding. I get to look in the eyes of the bride and groom. Everyone else sees the backs. I also get to see the eyes of the parents and grandparents,” Feinstein said. 

“To see all those eyes is to see the future and beginning. In the kids, it’s wonder. In the parents, it’s satisfaction. But to be able to see the eyes of the grandparents is a real blessing. To see the risk, the faithfulness and the prayers answered, it’s a real gift, and that’s what made this wedding so very special.”

Austrian museum reaches settlement over Nazi-looted artwork


Vienna's Leopold Museum said on Thursday it had reached a settlement over five Nazi-looted works of art in its collection that will return two of them to the heir of their original Jewish owner, a victim of the Holocaust.

The five pieces, all by Austrian painter Egon Schiele, had been owned by Viennese businessman Karl Maylaender, who died after being deported to a labour camp during World War Two. The museum will return two watercolours, including a self-portrait of Schiele, to Mayhlaender's 95-year-old heiress.

The remaining three pieces will stay in the museum, which owns the world's largest Schiele collection.

“This is a happy day,” Austria's Culture Minister Josef Ostermayer said at a news conference. The long-running discussion had cast a shadow over the museum and now a “Solomonic solution” had been found, he said.

Under Adolf Hitler, the Nazis forced Jewish artists and collectors to sell or give away their works, and many pieces were confiscated outright. A law Austria introduced in 1998 directed that its museums return the looted art, and major works have been given back to descendants of the former owners.

However, the Leopold Museum – privately funded and therefore not obliged to follow the law – would have preferred to keep all five drawings. In 2011, it sold one Schiele painting so it could pay $19 million to the heirs of a Jewish art dealer and – as part of the deal – keep another painting.

The New York-based heiress with whom the museum reached Thursday's agreement, who officials connected with the case said preferred to remain anonymous, had turned down an offer of money and insisted on getting the artwork back.

The Austrian Jewish Community, which backed her, said the now-found agreement was a good solution. “I am happy that the heiress can still enjoy the drawings,” community representative Erika Jakubovits said.

Elisabeth Leopold, widow of museum's late founder, Rudolf Leopold, who bought the pieces in 1960 from a Maylaender friend, said: “I have made a huge sacrifice in memory of Karl Maylaender.”

Dollar could suffer if U.S. walks away from Iran deal: Kerry


If the United States walks away from the nuclear deal with Iran and demands that its allies comply with U.S. sanctions, a loss of confidence in U.S. leadership could threaten the dollar's position as the world's reserve currency, the top U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday.

“If we turn around and nix the deal and then tell them, 'You're going to have to obey our rules and sanctions anyway,' that is a recipe, very quickly …. for the American dollar to cease to be the reserve currency of the world,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a Reuters Newsmaker event.

Defending the July 14 Vienna agreement between Iran and world powers that he helped to negotiate, Kerry also said it would be impossible for Iran to create a secret program for developing atomic fuel without the United States being able to detect it under the deal.

In warning of a potential loss of U.S. financial and political clout, Kerry deployed a new argument in a feverish battle to win Congress's approval of the Iran deal – or at least to prevent lawmakers from killing it.

Congress has until Sept. 17 to approve or disapprove the nuclear deal.

Kerry, asked about his comment on the dollar losing its status as world currency, said this was not something that would happen overnight but there are many countries “chafing” under the present international financial arrangements.

He said U.S. Treasury experts “are doing a full dive on how this works and what the implications are. But the notion that we can just sort of diss the deal and unilaterally walk away as Congress wants to do will have a profound negative impact on people's sense of American leadership and reliability.”

Kerry appeared to acknowledge that the tone of the Iran debate had taken on a political edge.

President Barack Obama last week accused critics of the deal of making common cause with Iranian hardliners who chant “Death to America” and said some had beaten the drum for the Iraq war.

“You can squabble maybe with the choice of words,” Kerry said, when asked about Obama's comments. He stressed his view that the Iran deal should be argued on its merits. “I think the merits are very, very strong and I think the president does too,” he said.

The agreement gives Tehran some relief from economic sanctions in return for strict limits on a nuclear program that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.

Tehran has long denied seeking a nuclear weapon and has insisted on the right to nuclear technology for peaceful means. Obama has never ruled out military force if negotiations failed, and has said that he and future presidents would still have that option if Iran quit the agreement.

Rouhani assures critics nuclear deal is good for Iran


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani defended Iran's nuclear deal with world powers after it came under attack from conservatives at home, arguing on Thursday it reflected the nation's will and was “more valuable” than carping over the details.

While many Iranians hope last week's agreement will bring an end to sanctions and deliver prosperity, the elite Revolutionary Guards military force and conservative lawmakers have said it endangers the country's security.

“This is a new page in history,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on television, reiterating that the deal had launched a phase of reconciliation with the outside world.

Pinning his authority to the fate of the agreement, Rouhani added that this new era had not begun when it was reached in Vienna on July 14 but rather on Aug. 4, 2013, the day Iranians elected him to solve the nuclear dispute.

The deal imposes curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for an easing of the international sanctions which have badly hurt its economy.

Iranian conservatives are not the only group unhappy with it. In the United States, Republicans who control Congress have also lined up against the agreement, although President Barack Obama says he will veto any congressional objection.

The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has promised to do “everything possible” to stop the deal. U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Thursday he had not yet decided how to vote on the agreement, although he acknowledged that U.S. negotiators had “got an awful lot”.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also has the task of selling the agreement to skeptical U.S. allies in the region. Israel is strongly opposed while Washington's Sunni Muslim-ruled Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia, are wary of an arrangement that would benefit their rival, Shi'ite Iran.

In Jeddah, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters that his country hoped the deal would curb rather than expand “Iran's interference in the region's affairs.”

“We hope that Iran will make use of the deal's fruits to re-build their country and to improve their people's quality of living, not to use it to conduct more subversion in the region.”

Jubeir added that any agreement should guarantee Iran's inability to get nuclear weapons and allow inspection of “all locations including the military locations.”

Iran denies the nuclear program aims to produce weapons.

The Revolutionary Guards have made it clear they will not permit any inspection of their military sites, and will not bow to any restriction on Iran's missile program.

European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who helped to broker the agreement, will visit Riyadh on Monday and Tehran on Tuesday next week.

In Riyadh, Mogherini will meet Jubeir to discuss “regional issues” following the Vienna deal, an EU statement said.

RIVALRIES

Chiding critics of the accord, Rouhani said he had noted some Iranian officials were “scrutinizing one by one the terms of the deal” and a subsequent resolution endorsing it which the United Nations Security Council passed on Monday.

“That’s good but what has happened is more valuable and more significant than that,” he said.

“The agreement conveyed this message to the world: Never threaten an Iranian anymore. This agreement sent the message to the world that the most difficult and complex international issues can be resolved through negotiations. Iran’s path is a path of moderation.”

Many analysts see the chance of the Iranian leadership eventually rejecting the accord as small, since Tehran needs the lifting of sanctions to help its isolated economy.

Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh outlined plans to rebuild its main industries and trade relationships following the deal, saying it was targeting oil and gas projects worth $185 billion by 2020.

Sanctions are unlikely to be removed until next year, as nuclear inspectors must confirm that Iran is complying with the deal.

The Iranian debate over the deal's details largely reflects internal rivalries in the country's cumbersome dual system of clerical and republican rule, in which factions jostle to gain maximum benefit from the deal while shouldering the least responsibility.

Iran's procedures for ratifying the accord are not known in any detail. Whatever the eventual role of parliament or the National Security Council, the deal will have to be approved by Khamenei, the country's highest authority.

Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, attended parliament on Tuesday to deliver the text of the deal and answer MPs' questions.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Khamenei, said on Wednesday he did not know which person or body would have the final say on the deal but added “It seems the National Security Council has been assigned to examine the deal.”

L.A. Federation issues strong opposition to Iran nuclear deal


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a statement July 21 expressing strong opposition to the recent nuclear agreement reached in Vienna on July 14 between Iran and the United States, European powers and China, also known as the P5+1.

“We encourage members of our community to raise their voices in opposition to this agreement by contacting their elected representatives to urge them to oppose this deal,” Federation’s statement said.

The email sent out by Federation came four days after two other major Jewish Federations — in Boston and Miami — urged Congress to reject the agreement and asked community members to urge their elected representatives to scuttle the bill. Congress has until mid-September to vote on the nuclear agreement. 

If the agreement is approved, the U.S. would join the United Nations and European Union in lifting nuclear-related sanctions against Iran in return for a temporary curb on that nation’s nuclear weapons program. If it is rejected, Obama would almost certainly veto the bill, which would then require a two-thirds majority in Congress to override the veto. If Congress reached that two-thirds majority, then all U.S. sanctions against Iran would remain in place even though the U.N. and E.U. ones would be lifted.


“No matter what happens, we felt it was important to make a strong statement at this critical time. It’s important to sometimes stand up.” — Jay Sanderson, Federation president and CEO

The L.A. Federation’s public opposition to the nuclear agreement particularly stood out given that it rarely takes such explicit stands on major issues. Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson said during a telephone call just before he boarded a flight on July 21 that this is the first time he remembers Federation taking a public stand on such a major issue since his tenure began in 2010.

“This is a very unique time,” Sanderson said. “After reading it several times and talking to leadership, we felt like it was important for our Federation to make a statement about how we feel about this, its impact on the United States of America and its potential negative impact on the State of Israel.”

The email sent out was five paragraphs long and urged Congress “to oppose the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program.” 

The Federation’s statement also said that while it wants a “diplomatic solution” to Iran’s nuclear program, the terms of the deal “will hasten the creation of an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.”

“The proposed agreement allows Iran to remain a threshold nuclear state, does not allow for ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and offers immediate rather than gradual sanctions relief without requiring Iran to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program,” the statement read. “The proposed agreement releases Iran from arms embargos in five years and ballistic missile sanctions in eight years.”

On July 14, after the agreement’s announcement by the P5+1 and Iran, the Jewish Federations of North America released a statement that neither endorsed nor opposed the agreement but instead urged Congress “to give this accord its utmost scrutiny.”

Sanderson said the L.A. Federation decided to publicly oppose the agreement after he and other officials had time to read the bill and consult with outside experts, including local politicians, whom Sanderson declined to name.

“We’ve been concerned and monitoring the situation for a very long time and spending time talking to our local Congress people and to other people involved in this process,” Sanderson said. “We only did this now when we felt this was an important moment for our community.”

Asked how he thinks a congressional vote (and veto override) to reject the nuclear agreement with Iran would impact the political landscape, Sanderson responded, “I’m not in a position to comment on what if Congress takes this agreement down and what happens afterward.

“No matter what happens, we felt it was important to make a strong statement at this critical time,” Sanderson continued. “It’s important to sometimes stand up.”

U.S. Republicans, pro-Israel groups step up campaign against Iran deal


Top Republicans vowed on Wednesday to do their utmost to scrap President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran as the biggest pro-Israel lobby geared up for an all-out campaign to pressure wary lawmakers into rejecting the agreement.

A bigger push against last week's historic accord in Vienna was being met with a counter-offensive by senior Obama administration officials, who have already spent hours on in-person and telephone briefings with members of Congress.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew briefed the entire House of Representatives and Senate in separate closed-door sessions on Wednesday and will defend the deal at a public Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.

As Congress opened a 60-day review of the deal, Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner told reporters: “Because a bad deal threatens the security of the American people, we're going to do everything possible to stop it.”

Obama insists that the Iran deal is the only alternative to more war in the Middle East.

The most influential pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will deploy hundreds of lobbyists on Capitol Hill next Wednesday and Thursday to try to convince lawmakers, especially undecided Democrats, to vote against the deal, according to an official in the pro-Israel camp.

AIPAC is also conducting a national television advertising campaign sponsored by allied groups such as Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, U.S. pro-Israel sources said. They are expected to spend upwards of $20 million, one source said.

Under a bill reluctantly signed into law by Obama in May, Congress has until Sept. 17 to decide whether to approve or reject the agreement between Iran and world powers to rein in Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Republicans control majorities in both houses of Congress. Many have come out strongly against the pact, which they say will empower Iran and threaten U.S. ally Israel.

Some said they wanted to know more.

Republican Representative Dennis Ross said he was predisposed against the agreement but, after the briefing, “I am probably inclined now to dig further and verify for myself.”

PARTISANSHIP

But if Congress passes a resolution disapproving of the deal, dozens of Democrats would have to vote with them to override the Democratic president's threatened veto, which is not likely in the fiercely partisan Congress.

“It's a steep climb but not an impossible climb,” the pro-Israel group official said of the coming campaign.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has come out strongly in favor of it. Among the senior Democrats whom pro-Israel lobbyists hope to win over is Senator Chuck Schumer, a strong advocate for Israel's security who has yet to state his position.

Schumer told reporters as he left the hearing that he was still deciding. “It's a serious issue and I'm studying it carefully, giving it what it deserves,” he said.

Several Republicans said the cabinet secretaries had not eased their concerns about several issues, particularly the ability to “snap back” sanctions if Iran violates the deal and the system for inspecting Iranian nuclear facilities.

Senator Ted Cruz, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, said the agreement would provide Iran with billions of dollars that would be used to murder Americans and their allies.

“If this deal goes through, it will transform the Obama administration into the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” he said.

Deal opponents in the pro-Israel camp believe more lawmakers can be swayed by detailed arguments about what they see as loopholes that Iran could use to skirt the agreement.

Pressure from AIPAC, whose members' support is widely coveted, could also worry lawmakers up for re-election. AIPAC boasts 100,000 members.

At the same time, J Street, a smaller liberal pro-Israel group, is urging supporters to lobby Congress to support the Iran deal.

Kerry told reporters before the House meeting that the deal “will make the region, our friends and allies, safer. It will make the world safer  in the absence of any viable alternative.”

Read the full text of the Iran Deal here


The 159-page final Iran Deal agreement is available online for anyone who's interested in reading it in its entirety. Below is the first part of the document.


Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Vienna, 14 July 2015

PREFACE

The E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and the Islamic Republic of Iran welcome this historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful, and mark a fundamental shift in their approach to this issue. They anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons. 

Iran envisions that this JCPOA will allow it to move forward with an exclusively peaceful, indigenous nuclear programme, in line with scientific and economic considerations, in accordance with the JCPOA, and with a view to building confidence and encouraging international cooperation. In this context, the initial mutually determined limitations described in this JCPOA will be followed by a gradual evolution, at a reasonable pace, of Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme, including its enrichment activities, to a commercial programme for exclusively peaceful purposes, consistent with international non-proliferation norms.

The E3/EU+3 envision that the implementation of this JCPOA will progressively allow them to gain confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s programme.

The JCPOA reflects mutually determined parameters, consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on the scope of Iran’s nuclear programme, including enrichment activities and R&D. The JCPOA addresses the E3/EU+3’s concerns, including through comprehensive measures providing for transparency and verification. The JCPOA will produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.

Iranian nuclear talks expected to go past scheduled deadline


Negotiations for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program will go past the scheduled deadline, several officials said from Vienna, where the final round of talks was underway.

The agreement was scheduled to be concluded on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left the negotiations and flew home to Tehran for consultations after first meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Zarif is scheduled to return on Tuesday, the deadline day for the talks.

The talks between Iran and the six world powers were expected to continue for a few days beyond the deadline, according to reports.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the world powers do not have to sign a deal in Vienna.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Hammond said. “There are red lines that we cannot cross and some very difficult decisions and tough choices are going to have to be made by all of us.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the deal on Sunday, saying “there is no demand that Iran change its behavior and its violations are being completely overlooked. Its extreme demands, as well as the concessions to Iran, are increasing.”

President Barack Obama said in April that the interim framework agreement achieved then was “a good deal” that “meets our core objectives, including strict limitations on Iran’s program and cutting off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu and other critics of the deal, which would gradually lift sanctions on Iran, say elements of the emerging deal allow Iran to continue a degree of uranium enrichment that would enable it to creep toward nuclear offensive capabilities.

Anti-Semitic attack in Vienna occurs near far-right gala


Two Jews in Vienna were attacked with anti-Semitic insults, with one sprayed in the face with pepper spray, near a far-right gala.

The Jan. 30 attack took place on Karntner Street about 500 yards from where Austria’s FPO party was holding its annual ball at the former imperial palace of Hofburg, the news website diepresse.com reportedSunday.

Dozens were arrested in riots that erupted after thousands of people showed up to protest the event, which was attended by far-right supporters and politicians.

In the attack against the Jews, who were not named, five men shouted anti-Semitic insults including “f***ing Jews” and “Jewish pigs,” according to Julian Poschl, a freelance journalist who witnessed the incident. After the insults, one of the five men sprayed pepper spray in the face of one of the Jews.

The two men were not wearing clothing or symbols that identified them as being Jewish.

Austrian police told Die Presse they were investigating the incident, which the victims reported, but could not confirm the attack was anti-Semitic in nature.

“Whether there has been an anti-Semitic insult, I cannot say,” a police spokesman told Die Presse. “The perpetrators fled immediately after the attack; we could not ask the other side.”

The Jewish Community of Vienna has condemned the hosting of the FPO gala at the Hofburg Palace — a privately-owned complex with a commercial conference center that nonetheless houses some government entities. The community regards the political party as a racist entity.

The community’s president, Oskar Deutsch, called the hosting “shameful” in a statement sent out Sunday.

Witnesses to Kristallnacht


On a Wednesday evening in late 1938, the sounds of broken glass shattered the quiet streets of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over the next 24 hours, Nov. 9-10, rampaging Nazi mobs would torch more than 1,000 synagogues; vandalize Jewish homes, businesses and cemeteries; and kill nearly 100 Jews. As many as 30,000 Jews were arrested and carted off to concentration camps. These coordinated attacks, which came to be known as Kristallnacht —  the Night of Broken Glass — mark the beginning of the Holocaust.

Survivors who lived to tell the story of the terror of Kristallnacht  — some quite young at the time — remember vividly the horrors of that night. These four, who share their memories on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, are among the lucky ones whose families were able to escape and who, eventually, made their way to Los Angeles. 


Herbert Jellinek, Vienna

Late on the morning of Nov. 10, 1938, Herb and his father, Leo, were walking home from their weekly visit to the public baths,when from a distance they saw the Turner Temple in flames. Only a year and four months earlier, Herb had become a bar mitzvah at this Vienna synagogue, but now Nazi Brownshirts, also called SA or Stormtroopers, were standing around with the local police, watching the building burn, and a crowd of Austrians had gathered and were cheering the sight. Herb and Leo stayed in the shadows. “We were very afraid,” Herb said. “We tried to get home as quickly as possible.”

They arrived at their apartment on Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna’s main shopping street, around noon to find Herb’s mother, Irma, in tears. Later that afternoon, Herb peeked out of their living room window and saw hordes of Brownshirts going from building to building, breaking the windows of apartments and stores where Jews lived and shopped. He also witnessed the Brownshirts roughing up Jewish men, dragging them out of their apartment buildings. Herb’s family fully expected the Nazis to come to their door to take Leo, and possibly 14-year-old Herb. They sat on the couch, wearing their overcoats because the apartment didn’t have central heat, and waited. 

Suddenly the doorbell rang. Irma opened the door and was surprised to find their electrician standing there, responding to their call from several days earlier to repair a broken radio. “I can’t understand what’s going on,” he told the Jellineks. “It’s ridiculous.”

Herb and his parents waited the rest of the night, listening to their newly repaired radio and staying quiet so as to not draw attention to themselves. They learned later that their concierge had steered the Nazis away, informing them no Jews lived in the building. 

The next day, Herb’s parents resolved to leave Austria. 

The situation had been deteriorating, especially since the Anschluss on March 12, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria. Three days later, Hitler had entered Vienna, the climax of a triumphant tour of Austria. Despite a warning over loudspeakers that anyone leaning out a window or leaving curtains open would be shot, Herb peered out to see Hitler riding in an open car with his hand raised. He heard people cheering and saw buildings adorned with swastika flags and banners. “It was like everyone all of a sudden became Nazi,” he recalled. 

Shortly after, Herb was forced to transfer from public school to a Jewish school, an hour’s streetcar ride, and at least weekly he found himself fighting members of the Hitler Youth. 

But Kristallnacht was the turning point for the Jellineks, and the following week Herb accompanied his father to the American consulate, where Leo filed an application to immigrate to the United States. But the waiting list was long, as it was at other consulates they visited. Weeks later, they learned that only Shanghai, which the British had established as a treaty port in the 1840s, would take them without a visa. With difficulty, Leo secured second-class tickets on an Italian passenger ship, departing Trieste in the spring.

In June 1939, Herb and his parents left Vienna. As they crossed the border into Italy and an Italian customs official entered their train car, they felt great relief. 

“A lot of people forget. You can’t forget what we went through,” Herb said. 


Rita Feder, Berlin

As evening fell on Nov. 10, 1938, Rita heard a huge crash outside her family’s apartment on Berlin’s Metzer Strasse. She looked out the front window and there, next to the entrance to their building, she saw four or five Brownshirts throwing cement blocks through the windows of the stores that occupied the ground floor. Rita’s mother, Fanny, started screaming. She dragged 10-year-old Rita away from the window and closed the drapes. 

 The Atterman family in Berlin in 1938. From left, mother Fanny, brother Jona (Heinz), Rita, brother Bill (Willy) and father Max

The family gathered in the living room, in the center of the apartment and away from the front windows and the back staircase. Rita sat in the dark with her parents and older brother, Bill (Willy). Her middle brother, Jona (Heinz), had immigrated to Palestine several months earlier. Time moved slowly. “I was so scared. It was the only time I was almost traumatized,” Rita recalled. While Max Atterman, her father, thought the Nazi hysteria would pass, Rita believed this was the end.  

The next day, Rita saw the store windows had been boarded up and the owners were sweeping up shattered glass. “There was not one store that wasn’t hit,” she said. Rita went to school that day, but no one talked about what had happened. 

Life had become increasingly unhappy for Rita as Hitler gained power. A gymnast and a sprinter, she had dreams of participating in the Olympics and desperately wanted to attend the 1936 Berlin Games. But Jews were not allowed. Her father did take her, however, to watch the men’s 50-kilometer walk, which took place along city streets.

About a year later, in 1937, Rita and her mother were walking near Alexanderplatz when the crowd began buzzing that Hitler was approaching. Everything quickly came to a standstill, and Fanny warned her daughter, “You better raise your hand now and scream, ‘Heil, Hitler.’ ” Rita shouted the salute as the Führer rode by in his open car, his arm raised. “I felt terrible,” Rita recalled.

Kristallnacht convinced Fanny that it was time to leave Germany, but Max wanted to stay. He thought again, however, as people around them began making plans to emigrate. Then, after visiting various consulates in Berlin, he discovered the world was blocked off to Jews. 

One day, a family friend came to visit. “We’re getting out of here, and you are, too. We’re going to China,” she told Fanny and Max. Max thought she was crazy.

In December 1938, Max made arrangements to send Rita to live with his niece in Antwerp, Belgium. When the smuggler came for her, Rita was frightened. “You have to go. It’ll save your life,” her mother told her. The man, who was Jewish, delivered Rita to her relatives. “They were wonderful people,” she said. 

In July 1939, the niece’s husband brought Rita back to Berlin, and a week later, Rita, her parents and her brother Bill boarded a train to Italy. “A stone fell off my parents’ hearts. They were getting away,” Rita said. They took a passenger ship to Shanghai, and in 1947, she and Bill immigrated to Los Angeles. 

“I have to give back to God and my country. I’m so fortunate,” Rita said.


Tom Tugend, Berlin

From his family’s second-floor apartment on Berlin’s Greifswalder Strasse, during the late-night hours of Nov. 9 or very early on Nov. 10, 1938, Tom heard the crashing of glass as bricks or rocks were heaved through the windows of the street-level shops. Tom’s mother, Irene Tugendreich, hustled Tom, 13, and his older sister, Brigitte, into her bedroom, and then his usually undemonstrative mother lay down and cuddled her children in the dark room. 

Tom Tugend, 14, and his mother, Irene Tugendreich, in 1939 in Philadelphia, their first year in the United States. 

At one point, the doorbell rang. The owner of the stationery store on the building’s ground level stood in the hallway, deathly pale and shaking. “Can you hide me?” he begged. The gentile landlady, who had answered the door and who also lived on the second floor, was too frightened to take him in; her Jewish husband had been sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp just a few days earlier. But she allowed the man to run through Tom’s apartment and out the back door. Tom didn’t feel particularly frightened at the time, he said, but, “I always remember his face, that absolutely horror-stricken face.”

Tom, his sister and mother returned to the bedroom. Tom continued to hear the shattering glass and the shouting mob. The three of them were grateful that Tom’s father was in the United States, as he undoubtedly would have been arrested.

The following day, Tom went to school. He remembers seeing the shattered glass on the streets and the stores being boarded up. But in a few days, life returned to what was then normal. He was riding his bike to school and playing soccer, the activity that mattered most to him at the time. 

His father, Gustav, a highly respected pediatrician and a World War I medical officer, had believed for a long time that Hitler was an aberration. But by 1937, when Gustav was no longer permitted to treat non-Jewish patients and when the family was forced to move from their upper-middle-class apartment to a smaller one in a working-class neighborhood, Gustav realized it was time to leave. Plus, he was likely influenced by Irene’s more pronounced sense of urgency. But by that time, most countries had closed their borders, and it was impossible to obtain visas.

Gustav, however, had tracked down the American and British Quakers, with whom he had worked in Germany in 1919 feeding hungry children. They found an immigration law exception for academicians and secured Gustav a one-year lectureship at the University of London in 1937-38 and one at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania the following year, thus qualifying him for a non-quota visa. Meanwhile, after the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and again after Kristallnacht, Gustav had been writing the family urgent letters from the United States, begging them to depart as soon as possible.

Finally, on April 20, 1939, with flags bedecking the city to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday, Tom, Brigitte and Irene boarded a plane from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport to London. They then traveled to Southampton and sailed by passenger ship to New York. 

Tom cautions that the trouble with writing history is that you see it through the lens of what has happened since. “Nobody could imagine at that time, even after Kristallnacht, that the Holocaust could happen,” he said.

Since 1955, Tom has lived permanently in Los Angeles. He has been writing regularly for the Jewish Journal since 1993 and serves as a contributing editor.


Risa Igelfeld, Vienna

Before Kristallnacht, and even before the Anschluss, when Risa witnessed Nazi soldiers singing and marching along the streets, she saw many Viennese turning to Nazism. “They came up like cockroaches. It was a frightening time,” she said.

Risa Relles Igelfeld, center, in Vienna in 1928 with her older sister, Edith Relles, and half-brother, Paul Knie. The girls were given the maiden name of their mother, who died when Risa was 1. 

Risa was asleep in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 1938, when the sound of boots kicking the front door of their house awakened her abruptly. “Where’s the money?” she heard the intruders shout. Risa, 21, and her older sister, Edith, who shared a bedroom, heard them enter their parents’ bedroom. “You’re coming with us,” they ordered Risa’s father, Ruben. The girls got out of bed and started dressing. “I was shaking like a leaf,” Risa recalled. The Brownshirts burst into their bedroom, searching for money, then left with Ruben. Risa and Edith stood together, holding onto one another. “I was so scared, just so scared,” Risa remembered.

About an hour later, Risa ventured into the living room. Daylight had broken, and she looked out the window onto Favoritenstrasse, one of Vienna’s main streets, to see other Brownshirts pulling away in Ruben’s first-ever new car. She kept pacing back and forth to the window. At one point, she saw SS and Brownshirts marching up and down the street, singing. Another time, she glanced at the window of the house across the street to see a neighbor sticking out her tongue at her. 

The following night, Risa’s half-brother, Paul Knie, managed to cross Austria’s border and head for Belgium. Then on Sunday, Risa was walking alone when she was stopped by the Brownshirts, who forced her to eat grass. She also saw elderly Jews she knew, on their hands and knees cleaning the sidewalks. “That was very upsetting for me,” she recalled.

The family did not learn Ruben’s fate until a month later, when they received a letter from him. He had been taken to Dachau and then Buchenwald. 

In early January 1939, Risa, following in her sister’s footsteps, left for London on a domestic visa sent by an English family looking for a servant. Soon after, she was promoted to the position of nanny for the couple’s two young children. 

Back in Vienna, Risa’s stepmother went to Nazi headquarters and bribed an SS official, who agreed to release Ruben with the stipulation that the couple leave Austria immediately. They boarded a boat to Palestine but were refused entry. Other ports were also closed. They finally landed on the island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, where they were imprisoned for three years. 

Before Kristallnacht, Paul had gone to the American consulate to search its telephone books for people with their surname, Knie, writing letters pleading for help. A couple in Chicago, Max and Tesse Knee, who were not related, responded, offering affidavits for all the family members. “They were just good people,” Risa said. Her parents arrived in New York around 1944. Risa and her husband, Gershom Igelfeld, whom she married in London, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949. 

U.S.: Agreement in areas in Iran talks


Areas of agreement have emerged between Iran and the major powers in nuclear talks, a top administration official said, and the United States will keep Israel in the loop.

The official, speaking Thursday to reporters in Vienna after the latest round of talks, said the negotiations were “workmanlike.”

“We have begun to see some areas of agreement as well as areas in which we will have to work through very difficult issues,” said the official, who would not specify where the sides had achieved agreement and who was not named in the transcript distributed by the U.S. State Department.

The official said Israel and other allies would be updated on the talks’ progress ahead of the next round of talks to take place again in Vienna on March 17.

“Parts of a group of our delegation will be leaving here and traveling to Israel and then on to Saudi Arabia for both bilateral and GCC consultations,” said the official, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a grouping of Arab Gulf states.

“This is part of the consultations that we do with partners and allies around the world,” the official said. “We will also be making phone calls to a variety of other partners around the world, which we do on a regular basis before and after each of these negotiations.”

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been skeptical of the interim agreement that is facilitating the talks, saying that it relieves too much sanctions pressure on Iran in exchange for too little in the way of nuclear rollback.

The talks are aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Separately, the State Department said in a statement Thursday that Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary who led the American side in the talks, is headed to Jerusalem and other capitals from Jan. 21-25 to brief leaders on the talks.

Austria honors Bikel


Theodore Meir Bikel and his parents peeked through the drawn curtains of their Vienna apartment watching the street below, where Adolf Hitler, standing in his limousine, slowly rolled by, cheered on by frenzied crowds.

It was March 15, 1938, and Hitler formally announced that Nazi Germany had annexed Austria, changing forever the life of that nation’s Jews, as well as that of 13-year-old Theo.

During an interview at his West Los Angeles home, Bikel was preparing for a trip to Austria to appear, on Nov. 7, on the rostrum of the Austrian Parliament Building before an audience of the country’s highest government and cultural leaders to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were put to the torch.

Historians generally mark this event as the forerunner, if not the beginning, of the Holocaust.

Bikel was going to accept Austria’s highest honor in the arts and to perform an hour-long concert of mainly Yiddish songs, interspersed with a few numbers in English and German.

For the finale, Bikel planned to sing “The Song of the Partisans,” in Yiddish, asking the distinguished audience to rise as he rendered the powerful words and notes of the anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.

The irony and meaning of the occasion is not lost on Bikel. “The Nazi criminals are gone; I am still here,” he said.

“I think I was created for this occasion,” Bikel said of the Vienna commemoration.

That is saying a lot for a man who, during a 70-year career, has distinguished himself as an actor and folksinger on stage, screen and television, as well as an author, raconteur, union leader, advocate for the arts, and a champion of Soviet Jewry and human rights.

Of his many roles, Bikel said he most cherishes that of folksinger, presenting “the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

Growing up in a strongly Zionist home, he was an only child, named in honor of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. By coincidence, the two men also share the same birthday.

After leaving Vienna, the Bikel family settled in Tel Aviv, while Theo spent two years at an agricultural school, aspiring to the Zionist ideal of working the land. He then joined the Kfar HaMaccabi kibbutz, “but it soon became obvious that my talents lay elsewhere,” he observed wryly.

The kibbutz management came to the same conclusion and sent him to a three-week training course for actors, in Tel Aviv.

After his first taste of the limelight, “there was no turning back,” Bikel said, and he was admitted to the Habima Theatre school.

The man who was to gain international fame as Tevye in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” got his first paying role in the stage play of “Tevye and his Daughters.”

He played the Russian constable who warns the shtetl’s Jews that they better get out before the next pogrom. For his 29-word dialogue, Bikel received the equivalent of $5 per show.

Bikel’s Vienna trip was praised by the White House, through its Jewish liaison, Mathew S. Nosanchuk. “I cannot think of a better emissary to carry a message of hope, perseverance and survival — on behalf of the Jewish people — to Austria, as the world marks these dark days,” Nosanchuk wrote. “You are the living embodiment of Jewish art and culture.”

Interviewed two days before flying to Vienna with his companion Aimee Ginsburg, Bikel, at 89, clearly had no thoughts of retirement — he is currently in the midst of producing and starring in the documentary film “Theodore Bikel in the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.”

As for his general health, while he hasn’t escaped the aches and pains of advancing age, he firmly proclaims, “I still retain the same mental vigor, the same energy and the same curiosity.”

But just in case, he has already planned the inscription for his tombstone: “He Was the Singer of His People” — in Yiddish.

Anne Frank figure joins Madame Tussauds gallery in Vienna


A life-size wax figure of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank has gone on display at Madame Tussauds in Vienna.

The display shows Anne writing in her diary at a desk in the attic of the house in Amsterdam where the teenager’s family hid from the Nazis. The diary was discovered after the Holocaust and published.

Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945; informers had given away the family’s hiding place.

The figure was created using historical documentation and pictures, according to reports.

“It is important for Madame Tussauds that we don’t just entertain but also play a role in educating people and help them learn from history,” a spokesman for the Austria museum said.

Anne Frank figures also are on display at the Madame Tussauds museums in Berlin and Amsterdam.

Vienna Archbishop opposes recognizing Jewish, Muslim holidays


The Archbishop of Vienna has advised Austria’s government not to add Jewish and Muslim dates to the list of national holidays.

“Both the Jewish and the Muslim community are not big enough in Austria that their holidays should be holidays for the entire population,” Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said on March 30 during a television interview for the ORF broadcaster.

Schonborn said 80 percent of the country’s population was Christian and mostly Catholic. “It is necessary to take into account the views of the majority of the people in the country,” he said.

Schonborn was responding to recent calls by Muslim leaders to declare one day during Ramadan and the day of Eid al-Adha as non-working days for Muslims.

The secretary general of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Raymond Fastenbauer, told the local newspaper Kleine Zeitung that the community supported making Jewish holidays national holidays, but that this idea was rejected because of objections by people in commerce.

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) estimates there are 400,000 to 500,000 Muslims in Austria – a country of about 8.5 million. About 15,000 Austrians are Jewish, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Vienna Philharmonic acknowledges honoring Nazi war criminal


The famed Vienna Philharmonic has acknowledged that many of its musicians were Nazi party members during Hitler's rule and that its director may have delivered a prestigious orchestra award to a Nazi war criminal two decades after the end of World War Two.

The orchestra, which has come under fire for covering up its history, on Sunday night published details for the first time about its conduct during the Nazi era, including biographies of Jewish members who were driven out and sent to death camps.

Austria took until 1991, more than four decades after the war's end, to formally acknowledge and voice regret for its central role in Hitler's Third Reich and Holocaust.

The Alpine republic will solemnly mark the 75th anniversary on Tuesday of its annexation by Nazi Germany, an event most Austrians at the time welcomed.

One of the world's premier orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic is most popularly known for its annual New Year's Concert, a Strauss waltz extravaganza that is broadcast to an audience of more than 50 million in 80 countries.

Less well known is the fact that the concert originated as a propaganda instrument under Nazi rule in 1939. The orchestra rarely played the music of the Strauss family, known for the “Blue Danube” and numerous other waltzes, before this period.

On Sunday, the orchestra published a list of recipients of its rings of honour and medals, which were traditionally given to artists but during the Nazi period were given to high-ranking officials and military leaders.

Baldur von Schirach, a Nazi governor of Vienna who oversaw the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps and was sentenced to 20 years in jail by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal after the war, was awarded the ring in 1942.

In one of the new articles posted on the orchestra's website (www.wienerphilharmoniker.at), Vienna University historian Oliver Rathkolb wrote that a replacement ring was delivered to Schirach in 1966 or 1967 after he was freed from prison.

According to a reliable witness, the person who delivered the replacement was trumpeter Helmut Wobisch, then the director of the orchestra and a former member of the SS, or paramilitary wing, of the Nazi party, Rathkolb's article says.

The Vienna Philharmonic's current chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, told Reuters the orchestra would now have to take a democratic decision as to whether to revoke the awards it made to the Nazis during that period.

A total of 60 of the orchestra's 123 members were either members of the Nazi party or wanted to become members as of 1942, in the middle of World War Two, the orchestra said on Sunday. Two were members of the SS.

DIFFERENT TIMES

Hellsberg wrote a history of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1992, “Democracy of Kings”, in which many of the uncomfortable facts now being published did not appear. He has said he did not have access to all the relevant documents when he wrote it.

Asked on Sunday why it had taken so long to come to this point, he said the orchestra had been quietly working through its history for decades, and now realised it needed to give a proper account of itself online.

“I grew up in a different time, when the book was the most significant medium, but one has to live with the fact that the Internet is a different medium that we have to live with and where we have to represent ourselves,” he said.

Hellsberg was speaking at a preview of a documentary by Austrian state broadcaster ORF about the orchestra's Nazi-era history, commissioned to coincide with the website additions.

Details of 13 musicians who were driven out of the orchestra over their Jewish origin or relations after Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938 – five of whom died in concentration camps – were also published on the site for the first time.

Conductor Josef Krips was ousted and worked in a food factory for years, but was allowed back after the defeat of Nazi Germany – and Austria – in 1945, ending the war.

Bernadette Mayrhofer, another of the independent historians from the University of Vienna, said the ostracism of Jewish musicians had begun even before 1938 under Austrofascism, a period of Italian-oriented authoritarian rule in Austria.

“It was known whether somebody had Jewish roots or a Jewish wife,” she told Reuters.

Many orchestra members joined the German Nazi party, illegal at that time in Austria, before the Anschluss (annexation) of 1938. After the war, just four party members were fired during the “de-Nazification” period and another six were pensioned off.

Wobisch, the SS member, was among those sacked in 1945 but managed to rejoin the Philharmonic as lead trumpeter in 1947.

LITTLE STEP

Harald Walser, an Austrian Greens member of parliament who is one of the Philharmonic's most vocal and persistent critics, welcomed the orchestra's decision to become more transparent, although he said it did not go far enough.

“It's a little step in the right direction,” he told Reuters. “But we're still a long way from having adequate access to the archives.”

The three historians commissioned by the orchestra were given less than two months to write their articles following a decision by the orchestra's management after this January's New Year's concert, an annual focal point for criticism.

All three had previously done work in the field.

Fritz Truempi, one of the three, said it took him three years from 2003 to gain access to research his 2011 book “Politisierte Orchester” (“Politicised Orchestra”), a study of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics under National Socialism.

The Vienna Philharmonic says it is not obliged to give public access to its archives, since it is a private organisation, although it does grant access to selected historians and scholars.

The New Year's Concert helped promote Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' desired image of Vienna. He wrote in his diaries that the Austrian capital should be seen as a city of “culture, music, optimism and conviviality”.

Truempi told Reuters: “The New Year's Concert was invented under the Nazis.”

The orchestra, whose image is closely tied to the 18th century Vienna of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, has long been one of Vienna's biggest tourist attractions an integral part of the Austrian capital's branding.

Truempi reckons that the orchestra has now finally come to a juncture where it realised that its long-held policy, designed to protect its brand, was actually harming its image.

“I see it also as an issue of image management. For a long time, they tried to maintain a strict control over their brand but, in the end, the political pressure became such that it was the best solution to open up,” he said.

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Protesters reportedly chant ‘kill the Jews’ in central Vienna


Protesters in Vienna reportedly called out “death to the Jews” at a demonstration near the Austrian chancellor’s office.

About 400 people participated in the demonstration on Nov. 30, according to reports by the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism, an international organization, and Judische.at, an Austrian-Jewish news site.

The demonstrators chanted “Ithbakh al yahud” (“Kill the Jews” in Arabic) and “Free Palestine,” as well as “Freedom for Syria” and “Destroy Israel.” The report said Viennese police did not intervene in the procession, which took place in the center of the Austrian capital.

The website published photos of the rally, which consisted of a ”colorful mix of Salafists, Hamas supporters, activists of an organization called ‘the Free Syrian Army,’ Muslim Brotherhood, young Palestinians and pseudo left-wing Trotskyists and ‘anti-Imperialists,’ ” the news site reported.

The report said “the security situation in Vienna seems precarious as the police and the secret service look away.” It also said the demonstration was not reported in most mainstream Austrian media.

The rally was organized to protest Israel’s strikes in Gaza last month against Hamas.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, large swastikas twice were scrawled on several doors belonging to two separate Jewish homes in Malmo, according to a report in Sydsvenskan, a local daily. One of the homes was broken into, and a computer and Judaica were stolen, including a gold Star of David, a mezuzah and a chanukyiah.

The homeowners, who did not wish to be named, reportedly called police four times during the weekend as the assailants continued to return.

In Finland, security cameras outside the Jewish community center in Helsinki over the weekend recorded an unknown individual shouting “Heil Hitler” while performing a Nazi salute, according to the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism.

Vienna street named for anti-Semitic mayor renamed


Vienna city councilors removed the name of a notoriously anti-Semitic mayor from a section of the elegant Ring boulevard that encircles the heart of the city.

City Councilor Andreas Mailath Pokorny on Wednesday formally exchanged the street sign “Dr. Karl-Lueger-Ring” for one named Universitaetsring (University Ring) in honor of the university located there, the Associated Press reported.

Lueger was mayor from 1897 until his death in 1910.

His anti-Semitic policies and his use of economic anti-Semitism to win popular support were a big influence on Adolf Hitler, who lived in Vienna at the time.

Austrian Jewish leaders had praised the decision when it was announced in April.

Austrian politician slammed for comparing protests to Kristallnacht


The leader of an Austrian far-right political party was condemned for comparing protests by students in Vienna with the Nazi persecution of Jews during Kristallnacht.

The Anti-Defamation League on Monday slammed the comments made Jan. 27 by Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache in response to heckling from leftist and radical protesters outside the Wiener Korporations-Ball in Vienna.

Strache was overheard by a reporter for the daily Der Standard comparing the protests to Kristallnacht and saying “we are the new Jews.” In addition, a Strache associate reportedly said that “whoever works for this ball immediately gets a Jew star pinned on him.”

Some 2,600 demonstrators were protesting that the ball, which was organized by Strache’s far-right Freedom Party, was held on the same day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement that “Strache mocked the victims of the Holocaust by comparing himself and his fellow extremists to Jews and invoking Kristallnacht to complain about the anti-fascist protests.”

Foxman added that “this trivialization is outrageous, but not surprising from Strache and his ilk. The victims of the Holocaust are entitled to respect and sympathy, which was shown around the world at commemorations of the greatest act of genocide.”

According to the ADL statement, the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party—Austria’s governing coalition parties—both strongly condemned the statements made by Strache.

Vienna’s Jewish community called on the state prosecutor to launch an investigation into the comments, according to reports.

Austria rightist leader slammed over ‘Jews’ remark


Austria’s Jewish community accused the country’s leading far-right politician on Monday of a “monstrous provocation” for what a newspaper said were comments likening anti-fascist protests to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Rival politicians also attacked Heinz-Christian Strache, who hopes to be Austria’s next chancellor, after the report in Der Standard, which said its reporter overheard Strache make the remarks at a Vienna ball on Friday night.

Guests at the WKR ball had to run the gauntlet of protesters who say the student fraternity event draws extreme-right activists from across Europe, a charge its organisers deny.

“We are the new Jews”, Standard quoted Strache, the head of the Freedom Party, Austria’s biggest opposition party, as telling fellow ball guests, apparently not realising a journalist was within earshot.

The paper also quoted Strache as saying demonstrators’ attacks on arriving guests “were like the Reichskristallnacht”, or Night of Broken Glass, Nazi thugs’ violent anti-Jewish pogroms in November 1938.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria that year, and a debate continues to smoulder over whether the country was Hitler’s first victim or a willing accomplice.

Strache could not be reached immediately for comment, but the general secretary of his party, Harald Vilimsky, dismissed the “artificial and ridiculous outrage” that the report had triggered.

“A Standard journalist eavesdropped on this private conversation like a Stasi spy and portrayed the comment in a completely exaggerated and skewed way in his report,” his statement said, referring to East Germany’s secret police.

Austria’s main Jewish community organisation said it was outraged by the reported comments that it said would normally trigger a criminal probe into people who, unlike Strache as a member of parliament, did not have immunity from prosecution.

It called the comments a “monstrous provocation” made on the international remembrance day for the Holocaust.

Officials from other parties leapt on the reported comments to criticise Strache, whose party is running neck and neck with Social Democrats for first place ahead of a parliamentary election that must be held by September 2013.

“Freedom Party chief Strache is not acceptable for any office in this republic,” Vienna Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou of the environmentalist Greens party said.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alison Williams

Barak predicts fall of ayatollahs


Iran’s clerical regime is waning but would be boosted by gaining nuclear weapons, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

Addressing a Vienna conference Sunday, Barak repeated calls for world powers to crack down on Iran’s nuclear program with “paralyzing” sanctions.

“This regime in Iran, the ayatollahs, they will not be there, I believe, in 10 or 15 years. It is against the nature of the Iranian people and what happens all around the world,” he said.

“But if they turn nuclear they might assure another layer of immunity, political immunity for the regime in the same way that Kim Jong-il assured his,” Barak added, referring to the leader of North Korea.

Student-led protests erupted in Iran following the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but since then have been mostly suppressed. Barak voiced hope that the anti-regime demonstrations of the Arab Spring would “jump” over the Persian Gulf into Iran.

Arabs, Israel to attend nuclear talks, Iran uncertain


Arab states and Israel plan to attend a rare round of talks next week on efforts to free the world of nuclear weapons but Iran has yet to say whether it will take part, diplomats said on Wednesday.

The November 21-22 forum, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, is seen as a symbolically significant bid to bring regional foes together at the same venue, even though no concrete outcome is expected.

If conducted smoothly with relatively toned-down rhetoric on all sides, it could send a positive signal ahead of a planned international conference next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

“It is a good opportunity for everybody to sit and talk but

I don’t think it is going to achieve a tangible result,” a Western diplomat said.

An Arab ambassador said he and others would probably mention Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal in their statements, but would not include anything “that would create polarization” in the meeting room.

“We expect to pinpoint the issues that could be an obstacle or impediment to establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and possibly how to deal with them,” the envoy said.

“Everybody knows that the Israeli nuclear capabilities are a big obstacle in this endeavor,” the Arab diplomat said.

Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, and faces frequent Arab and Iranian condemnation.

Israel and the United States regard Iran as the region’s main nuclear threat, accusing Tehran of trying to develop an atomic bomb in secret. An IAEA report last week added weight to those allegations, which Iran denies.

Next week’s discussions, convened by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, will focus on the experiences of regions which have set up Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America.

IAEA member states decided in 2000 to hold the meeting but it has taken this long for the parties involved to agree on the agenda and other issues.

All 151 IAEA member countries have been invited to the forum, to be chaired by senior Norwegian diplomat Jan Petersen, but dialogue and debate among Middle East envoys will take center stage.

“I think there is a genuine will to make this a positive experience,” Petersen told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m encouraged about what I heard during the consultations.”

NUCLEAR MEETING IN FINLAND

Diplomats said Israel and Arab states had accepted the invitation but that there had as yet been no word from Iran, which in September said it saw no justification for such a meeting now and took a swipe at arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, the only Middle East country outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity to deter numerically superior foes.

It says it would only join the treaty if there is a comprehensive Middle East peace with its longtime Arab and Iranian adversaries. Israel would have to renounce nuclear weaponry if it signed the 1970 agreement.

Last month, the United Nations said Finland agreed to host a potentially divisive international meeting in 2012 to discuss ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

The idea for that conference came from Egypt, which pushed for a meeting with all states in the Middle East to negotiate a treaty that would establish a nuclear arms-free zone.

Washington’s commitment will be key to the success or failure of next year’s talks, Western diplomats have said, as it is the only state that can persuade Israel to attend.

“If successful, it (next week’s forum) may be a building block toward 2012,” Petersen said.

The Arab ambassador and others said setting up this kind of zone in the Middle East would not happen soon.

“It is very distant. It is a very complicated issue. There is a lot of mistrust among the parties,” the envoy said.

Editing by Andrew Roche

At Maccabi Games in Vienna, symbolism—and girls


The symbolism was unmistakable.

Four thousand Jews stood just a few hundred yards away from the spot where a quarter-million Austrians cheered Adolf Hitler in March 1938 as he announced Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria.

This time, however, the Jews had come to celebrate, as athletes from around the world gathered July 6 for the lavish opening ceremony of the 13th European Maccabi Games.

It was the first time the Games—the so-called Jewish Olympics for Europe—have been held in a German-speaking country since 1945, and Maccabi officials said the crowd made up the largest gathering of Jews in Vienna since the Holocaust.

“Here we are on the other side of the street from where Hitler declared he would destroy the Jewish people,” Rabbi Carlos Tapiero, the deputy director general of the Maccabi World Union, told JTA. “We’re saying, ‘No! We’re here.’ ”

The games, which were slated to run through July 13, mixed sports, socializing and a heavy dose of symbolism, showcasing Jewish renewal and Israeli success against the backdrop of Holocaust history.

The opening ceremony—three hours of speeches and a song-and-dance spectacle—included screen projections showing Hitler and the destruction of the Holocaust as well as prewar Jewish life and postwar rebuilding in Europe and Israel. The event took place in front of Vienna City Hall, the Rathaus, not far from Heldenplatz, or Heroes’ Square, where Hitler spoke in 1938.

“We can’t forget the Vienna that was the city of Theodor Herzl, nor can we forget the Vienna of the Nazis,” the speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, told the crowd. “It’s a festival of the victory of the Jewish spirit over Nazi extermination.”

Amid cheers, fanfare and flag waving, some 2,000 athletes paraded in the opening ceremony. Aged 12 to over 80, they came from 37 countries in Europe, the Americas, Israel, central Asia and Africa.

The delegations were dressed in colorful team uniforms—the Scottish team wore kilts—and ranged in mumber from the more than 200 from Germany to a lone woman from Guinea Bissau. The 115-member U.S. team included two 80-year-olds, John Benfield of Los Angeles and Arthur Figur of New Rochelle, N.Y., who had escaped Vienna in 1938 as children and were returning to swim for the U.S. team.

“I’m doing really a symbolic swim,” Benfield, a professor emeritus at the UCLA Medical School, told JTA. “I need to show the Nazis that we’re still around.”

The idea of the games is not just to play sports or celebrate, but to foster Jewish identity and community.

“Our motto is building Jewish pride through sports,” said Ron Cramer, president of Maccabi U.S. “It’s an amazing way to engage young people. They think they are just coming to a sporting event, but it’s much, much more.”

It’s also an opportunity for young Jews to meet each other.

At the Maccabi Games’ venue—a sprawling, state-of-the-art Jewish school, sports and community center that opened in 2008—athletes exchanged team pins, e-mail addresses and Facebook names.

“It’s the first time in my life that I have been together with so many other Jews,” said Jozef Gurfinkiel, a middle-aged man from Gdansk on the Polish bridge team.

“Girls, girls, girls!” exclaimed Jonathan Dzanashvili, a member of the Austrian basketball team. “It’s very important because we are all here together; we’re like glue. That’s special.”

His teammate, 14-year-old Benny Abramov, agreed.

“I’m making many new friends from other countries,” he said. “If you’re in a hotel with 2,000 other athletes, it’s a new feeling.”

Tapiero noted that the Maccabi sports movement had begun as part of an ideological effort to build a “new Jew” in response to anti-Semitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The aim was to enable Jews to use their bodies, not just their brains, to prove their excellence. The Zionist leader Max Nordau even issued a famous call for what he termed “muscular Jewry” at the second World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1898.

The focus today has shifted somewhat, Tapiero said.

“The ethos of excellence in sports changed when the world changed,” he said. “We don’t have to prove our excellence there. The ethos now is the social aspect—so in this respect ‘girls, girls, girls’ is a success!”

Shawn Landres, the co-founder and CEO of Jumpstart, a Jewish innovation think tank and incubator in Los Angeles, said that Jewish sports involvement affirms that Jewish life “can be multidimensional and engage people beyond pure intellect, emotion or spirit.”

Landres knows this firsthand—he met his wife, Zuzana Riemer Landres, who is Slovak, at a Winter Maccabi Games event in Slovakia in 1998.

“Maccabi connected being Jewish with something I love to do—skiing,” Riemer Landres told JTA. “It changed my Jewish experience because it was more about movement, being active and competitive sport. It put sport into a Jewish context, and expanded Judaism beyond workshops and studying together. And then it changed my life.”

For native Austrians, a symbolic swim ‘to show the Nazis’


When he come to the 13th European Maccabi Games in Vienna, John Benfield didn’t return to his native Austria for any medals.

“I’m not a competitive swimmer,” said Benfield, 80, of Los Angeles. “But when I heard that the European Maccabi Games were being held in Vienna, I knew it was something I needed to do.”

Sitting next to him on a sofa off the lobby of the Austrian capital’s elegant Hotel Imperial, Benfield’s lifelong friend Arthur Figur, also 80, nodded in agreement. “It’s a symbolic return to a country that could have annihilated me if I hadn’t escaped,” said Figur, of New Rochelle, N.Y.

Benfield and Figur are members of the U.S. swim team in the masters, or over-35, category of the 13th European Maccabi Games being held here July 5-13—the first time the Games are being hosted by a German-speaking country since the Holocaust.

“I’m doing really a symbolic swim,” Benfield said. “I need to show the Nazis that we’re still around.”

Benfield and Figur both were born in Vienna in 1931, and both escaped to the United States as children in 1938—the year that Adolf Hitler rode triumphantly into the city and addressed cheering crowds after the Nazi regime’s annexation of Austria. Hitler stayed at the Hotel Imperial and spoke from its balcony.

Benfield and Figur were friends as children, and both were taught to swim in 1936-37 by Benfield’s uncle, who was the coach of the swim team of Hakoah, the famous Jewish sports club founded in Vienna in 1909 in response to a law that barred Jewish athletes from Austrian sports clubs.

Benfield’s aunt, Hedy Bienenfield-Wertheimer, was a popular fashion model and Hakoah swimmer who won a bronze medal in the European swimming championships in 1927. Her story is recounted in the 2004 documentary “Watermarks,” which tells the story of the Hakoah women’s swim team.

Hakoah, which had grown into one of Europe’s most important sports clubs, was disbanded by the Nazis in 1938.

“The day the Nazis marched in, my mother, who was Dutch, put me on a train to Holland,” Figur recalled. “My parents got out six weeks later.”

The Benfield and Figur families arrived in New York as refugees in July 1938 and shared an apartment there. Benfield’s father joined the U.S. Army after World War II broke out. He died in 1945 in the China-Burma-India theater, though not in combat.

Benfield and Figur both went on to have distinguished careers in the medical field and still lead active professional lives. A thoracic surgeon, Benfield is professor emeritus at the UCLA Medical School and the recipient of many international awards. One facet of his current work is helping researchers and scientists whose native language is not English.

Figur, a hematologist and internist, is the associate medical director at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. The striking Figur, who in Vienna wore a cowboy shirt and sported an earring dangling from his left ear during his interview with JTA, has maintained an enthusiastic involvement in sports. He has traveled the world on adventure treks and taken part in Ironman competitions. This summer, he is planning to participate in a relay swim around Manhattan island.

Figur says he feels little connection with Vienna. “I don’t feel comfortable here,” he said. “If my mother were alive she’d be upset—she was Dutch and she never felt comfortable here, either.”

Benfield, who has been back to Vienna a number of times since 1938, says he has grown more comfortable over the years but was still “wary of the history and wary of the significant faction of fascism” in Austria.

He said he had reclaimed his Austrian citizenship so he could vote here—and vote against the far-right nationalist parties that have made gains in recent Austrian elections.

“My advice to the Austrians is to please recognize that diversity is a good thing,” he said. “Diversity can contribute to the strength of society.

“The events of the past are real, awful and inexcusable. But we have a responsibility to never let it happen again.”

European Maccabi Games open in Vienna


Austria’s President Heinz Fischer formally opened the 13th European Maccabi Games at the biggest Jewish gathering in Vienna since the Holocaust.

As many as 5,000 people attended Wednesday’s three-hour opening ceremony, a mixture of speeches and spectacle that was held outside City Hall, or Rathaus, just down the street from where Hitler addressed a cheering crowd in March 1938 after Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

This year marks the first time that the European Maccabi Games have been held in a German-speaking country since World War II.

The opening ceremony stressed that symbolism. Speakers honored the victims of the Shoah but said that holding the games in Vienna was testimony to Jewish spirit and survival.

Some 2,000 athletes from 37 countries are taking part in the weeklong games. The athletes range in age from 12 to over 80.

The U.S. team includes two 80-year-old men who escaped Vienna as children in 1938 and came to the games to compete as swimmers.

Leopold settles with heir over Schiele painting


The Leopold Museum has agreed to settle with one of the heirs of an Austrian Jewish art collector for her share in a valuable painting.

The museum based in Vienna will pay $5 million to the granddaughter of Austrian Jewish art collector Jenny Steiner for her share in the 1914 painting “Houses by the Sea” by Austrian painter Egon Schiele. The painting was looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Steiner left Austria after it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938 and settled in the United States. The painting was acquired by Rudolf Leopold, who founded the museum, in 1955.

The museum had offered to pay Steiner’s heirs $25 million, but they had demanded restitution of the painting. The museum is a private institution, however, and is not subject to the restitution law.

Though the museum settled with one granddaughter, two other groups of descendants have not settled, the French news agency AFP reported.

Two Nazi-looted paintings restituted to Vienna family


Two paintings confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish family in Vienna have been returned to its heirs following two years of negotiations.

The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe announced Wednesday that a work by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1788-1868) was delivered by the Dresden Gemaldegalerie museum to London to be given to the heirs of the Rosauer family in Vienna. Another work, by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830), was returned to the family in late 2010. It had been in the custody of the German government.

“We are very pleased that both the government and the museum returned the paintings,” Anne Webber, co-chair of the commission, told JTA Wednesday. “The process in both cases took longer than might have been expected, and we hope that one of the changes that might result from this is that [there will be] clear claims procedures that set out the framework of the process.”

The works were among 160 that belonged to three sisters, Malvine, Eugenie and Bertha Rosauer. Forced by their brother to remain unmarried, the sisters lived together in an apartment in Vienna.

Malvine died there in 1940 and the two younger sisters were murdered in Treblinka in 1942. Of the entire family left in Vienna, only one great-nephew, the late Rudolf Epstein, survived. He had managed to save a watercolor painting of the family’s home, in which many of the artworks were portrayed. The only other evidence is a list of property that the sisters had to provide to the Nazis.

Painstaking detective work revealed that the two now-restituted paintings were among the works that ended up in the hands of Hitler’s art dealer, Julius Bohler of Munich. They changed hands several times before settling in the Dresden museum. Negotiations for their return began in 2009.

Webber told JTA that clues have been found and now other works are being traced as well.

“Uncle Rudy said these paintings were stolen from my uncle and aunts, and when the time is right you must look for them,” Susan Freeman, who was born in Vienna in 1936, told JTA. She and her parents fled to England in 1938.

“This is the first homecoming, and it was such an emotional moment to feel that the aunts were there,” Freeman said. “Rudy would have been over the moon.”

Jewish museum officials decry Vienna exhibit destruction


Directors of Jewish museums and educational institutes in Europe have written an open letter condemning the destruction of a 16-year-old exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna.

The exhibit, based on holograms, was removed recently to make way for a new exhibit due to open next summer. According to the museum’s website, efforts to preserve the exhibit proved technically impossible.

Public criticism grew after photographs of the shattered exhibition made their way onto museum-related blogs.

In the open letter to Danielle Spera, director of the Vienna Jewish Museum since July, the critics said they expected colleagues to “show dignity and respect for their own institutional history. And the same dignity and respect should be shown to our colleagues and their work.”

According to the letter, the holograms “were among the most remarkable presentations of Jewish history in the world of Jewish museums and beyond.” They were designed to underscore the point that concrete cultural objects had been destroyed in the Holocaust.

Directors of Jewish museums in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Austria were among those who signed the letter.

Cilly Kugelmann, program director at the Jewish Museum Berlin, told JTA that she hoped the letter would raise awareness about the importance of preserving historic museum displays, even though they must sometimes make way for new innovations.

“One should not throw the old overboard,” she said.

Kugelmann, who said she was “shocked by the destruction,” said there had been no response to the letter.

On the museum’s website, Peter Menasse, director of the financial and organizational department, describes the holograms as a “trademark” exhibition that showed the history of Vienna Jewry, but that also were showing signs of wear and tear. He wrote that one slip and the safety glass used for the holograms shattered into thousands of pieces, tanking plans to preserve them.

In an interview and fashion shoot last year in the Austrian magazine First, Spera said it was her greatest wish to design a permanent exhibit that would show all facets of Jewish life in Austria.

Vienna Jews sue over Turkish film


Vienna’s Jewish community has sued a cinema chain and a film distributor over a newly released Turkish film it calls anti-Semitic.

The suit was filed Tuesday, several days after the release of “Valley of the Wolves-Palestine” in Austria and Germany.

The film, accused of using anti-Semitic stereotypes, is guilty of incitement to religious hatred and insulting religious faiths, Vienna Jewish Community Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said, according to the German news agency DPA.

The movie is a sequel to the 2006 production “Valley of the Wolves-Iraq,” which focused on a fictitious Jewish doctor harvesting organs of Iraqi soldiers for use in Israeli hospitals.

The new film involves a group of Turks who set out to avenge the deaths of nine militants who were killed by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara boat, which attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza last May. The opening scenes use actual footage from Israel’s military raid.

In saving Jewish remnants in Galicia, an effort to enlist Ukrainians


On a sloping green hill tucked between small farmsteads, the mottled graves of Jews buried here since the 1600s rise up like a forgotten forest.

Trudging through the mud between the tilted stones, their chiseled Hebrew lettering and renderings of menorahs sometimes barely visible, Vladimer Levin, an animated young historian who specializes in Jewish art, wants to save the gravestones.

“When we talk about preserving Jewish history, it’s not just about the spiritual life, thought and books but the material culture Jews produced for themselves. And that is what remains in this place,” he said, looking at the tombstones. “They are the artistic remnants of this small Jewish community.”

Levin, a 39-year-old immigrant to Israel from St. Petersburg, Russia, is part of a team of Israeli historians attempting to document what remains of a once populous and vibrant Jewish life in the regions of Galicia and Bukovina, most of which is in the western edge of present-day Ukraine.

As part of efforts to recover the world that once was in these towns and shtetls, where some 1 million Jews lived before the Holocaust, the researchers are partnering with Ukrainian academics. The idea is not only to boost the level of scholarship but to highlight to Ukrainian locals a Jewish past that spanned centuries but is rarely remembered publicly in the country.

“Jewish history is not part of the agenda” in Ukraine, said Yaroslav Hrystak, director of graduate studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University, which has partnered with the Israeli researchers. “It’s like a whole subject that disappeared.”

The project aims to collect oral testimony and document cemeteries and synagogues left derelict or used for such purposes as canning factories to storage space, and enlist young Ukrainian historians to do Jewish-related scholarship. An online database has been established on the project’s website to make the research widely accessible. The project also has set up a scholarship for Ukrainian graduate students to spend a year at Hebrew University to learn Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish.

“Records are being lost in front of us, and so the goal is collection and preservation,” said David Wallach, a professor of molecular biology at Israel’s Weizmann Institute who is among the group of families that helped establish a fund called the Ludmer Project to help pay for the research.

Academics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are overseeing the project with the hope of including other universities.

Wallach, 64, became intrigued by the region’s history after his father’s death. He found among his father’s belongings a black suitcase crammed with photographs and documents he had taken with him from Bukovina before immigrating to prestate Palestine in 1932.

“There is an urgent need for this research,” said Wallach, a tall man with a graying beard.

His relatives came from various parts of Galicia, including a former shtetl called Nardvirna where Gestapo units assisted by local Ukrainians rounded up most of the town’s Jews on Sukkot of 1941. With whips and dogs, the 3,500 or so Jews were herded into a nearby forest and shot, their bodies dropping into ditches.

Here the complete destruction of the country’s Jewish communities is marked with little commemoration or public knowledge. No haunting edifices of concentration camps like Auschwitz, in neighboring Poland, stand as testimony.

The collection of oral testimonies from Ukrainians who were old enough to bear witness to this period and prewar Jewish life is part of the project’s mission.

Among the grimmer tales collected in Solotyvin was information on the approximate location of a communal grave of Jewish doctors and pharmacists and their families who were killed after most of the village’s Jews were rounded up. The grave was dug near the cemetery’s entrance, locals recalled, although no one could be sure if it was to the left or the right of the path that divides the hundreds of tombstones.

They also told of a doctor’s young son who was found hiding and brought to the cemetery to be shot and buried.

“My parents did not speak. These were not things you told children about,” Wallach said, adding that his mother only warned him of her birthplace, “Don’t go there; the land is soaked in blood.”

Now he is spearheading efforts to solicit funds and assistance to keep the project going. For Wallach it has become a mission to honor the lives lived in a world that no longer exists. Along with a small group of historians and journalists, including JTA, Wallach traveled to the southern side of Galicia last month to see some of the project’s past and future work. 

“We want to go beyond the Shoah,” said Levin, who led the tour along with fellow Hebrew University historian Semion Goldin, director of the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and European Jewry. “Before people were killed, they lived many generations in these places. We are the result of these lives.”

In a small white van careening down pot-holed roads deep in the countryside, one of the stops was a small town known as Podhajce (Pidhaistsi in Ukrainian), an important place on the Jewish map during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the hometown of several rabbis who went on to prominence in other parts of Europe.

Podhajce once was a walled town, an embattled place that found itself under successive attack over the centuries from raiding armies including the Tartars, Cossacks, Nazis and eventually the Soviets.

Along a narrow road, a stone-faced building rises far above the surrounding tin roofs of the neighboring houses, the oldest standing structure in the town. It is a synagogue built in the early 17th century with soaring Gothic windows. The massive buttresses on its south side suggest it may have been used as what is known as a fortress synagogue intended to shelter locals and withstand attacks.

A corrugated roof was put on during the Soviet era, but inside the building is dark and abandoned. A packed dirt floor is littered with broken bottles and the odd discarded shoe. Its thick plaster walls house a deep niche, the former site of its holy ark. 

Budget allowing, the historians plan to return with a team of Israeli and Ukrainian architectural students next summer to document the structure with measurements and photographs. But they fear that the the building, in such poor shape, might not last another winter.

They also plan to document the town’s Jewish cemetery next summer. Dozens of rows of graves already are gone, leaving a massive gap between the headstones. They were taken away by locals for paving stones, some of which make up part of the stairs leading out of the cemetery.

“If the past is being erased, our response is to study, preserve and document,” said Wallach, adding the Talmudic maxim, “You are not obliged to finish the task but neither are you free to walk away from it.”

History of Hollywood Jews to show in Vienna


Werner Hanak-Lettner, a curator for the Jüdisches Museum Wien (the Jewish Museum Vienna) has lately been asking a lot of people the question, “Does Hollywood feel like a Jewish place?”

The simple answer could be “not really.” But according to Hanak-Lettner, who is organizing a major European exhibition on the first 100 years of Hollywood, that response would be a superficial reading; the impressions made by movies and celebrity magazines tell only part of the story of how Hollywood created a new paradigm in the American mythos.

“Hollywood is really one of the main cultural histories of the 20th century,” Hanak-Lettner said over breakfast at Hillcrest Country Club, itself a bastion of old Hollywood mystique. “And it is something that is big here in Los Angeles, but it is also big in the world.”

The impetus behind the exhibition, “Bigger Than Life: Hollywood’s First 100 Years,” stems, unsurprisingly, from post-Holocaust contrition. “After the Holocaust, there was a commitment made by the states of Austria and Germany to tell the Jewish history of the various cities, so a wave of Jewish museums was created,” he said.

The nascent Jewish cultural revival is an attempt to reclaim a lost history, but, also, a history that was never fully acknowledged to begin with. “[In high school] we were taught about the Holocaust, but we were not taught Jewish history. When you were talking about Jews and Judaism, it came in the moment when history class was talking about extinction and murder; and if you learn about Jews only in the moment when they are dying, they remain dead bodies for you.”

So Hanak-Lettner, who is not Jewish, came to Los Angeles to track down the progeny of Hollywood legends. He met with a Laemmle, a Zukor and a Warner, and he was desperately looking for a Marx — that is, Groucho’s son Arthur. He also told me he wanted to find the bat that the Bear Jew used to pummel Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” That would be a hit item for the exhibition.

Hanak-Lettner is one of five curators at the Jewish Museum Vienna, where he has been a presence since its inception in 1993. He received his doctoral degree from the Universitat Wien (University of Vienna) where he studied history, film and theater. Hollywood has always captivated him, he said, because it is about “immigration, integration and new media” — themes as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, when a bunch of Eastern European Jews well versed in the textile business traded in their shmattes for movie stars.

Hollywood’s founders went West, Hanak-Lettner said, because the East Coast was code for Jewish emigration. Way out West, they could not only become American, they could envisage the ideal of what it would mean to be American.

“They created not only a whole history, a whole industry, but they also recoined the American myth and gave images to it,” Hanak-Lettner said. “It isn’t very often that somebody comes from the outside and has the eye for what is the core of the society and can make [it into] a narrative that then is accepted by the whole.”

But that’s the classic Jewish story, isn’t it? The tale of the outsider struggling to get in; the plight of the few overcoming the powerful. And it’s biblical: Joseph’s rise to prominence in Egypt is an apt parallel for what Hollywood meant to American Jews. Hollywood turned the Joseph story into the quintessential American tale; after all, who is more “American” than Joseph — that rugged individualist who is cast out, friendless and penniless, but who emerges the Grand Vizier of Egypt? It is the American dream co-opted by Jewish legacy.

But as much as Hollywood’s founders tried to hide their identities, they couldn’t escape the contents of their kishkas. So they simply refashioned the Jewish story as an American one.

“It is not only that immigrants came here and made movies,” Hanak-Lettner said. “It’s that these films were made for immigrants and taught them how to behave in America.”

Hollywood’s first sex symbol — the original femme fatale — was Theodosia Goodman, or Theda Bara. She was born in Ohio to a tailor and his Swiss wife, but Hollywood sold her as an exotic Arab princess: the Egyptian-born daughter of a French actress and an Italian sculptor.

All of which is a faint echo of the truth. But it was the only way for Jews to go from the gas chambers of Europe to the golf course at Hillcrest.

From his non-Jewish, European vantage point, Hanak-Lettner marvels at the existence of a Hillcrest. “Do you have the feeling … do you feel somehow European in this place?” It would be deliciously ironic if Hillcrest’s Jewish founders re-created European opulence to assert their new power. “[Hillcrest] is really a story of Jews gaining place here in Los Angeles, you know, getting more important.”

There is something undeniably tribal — and paradoxical — about Hillcrest, which was founded, and populated mostly by Hollywood Jews, in the 1920s, when no other social clubs in Los Angeles permitted Jewish membership. Today it requires prestige to “belong” — the outsiders become insiders.

“Hollywood helped Jews find a place in America, and it is a very special cultural life that Jews gave to Hollywood and to Los Angeles: Just look at the historic sight of Wilshire Boulevard Temple with the murals inside. Nobody else in the world, even in a Reform synagogue, has murals like that. There you feel [a sense of] some sort of kingdom that was once here.”

It was Warner Bros. chieftain Jack Warner who commissioned the biblically inspired murals in 1929, and they are emblamatic of Hollywood’s importance to the Jewish community, a reminder that the Kingdom of Hollywood was a Jewish response to the modern world.

“A guy once said to me — a musician working in TV — ‘It would be interesting to work in Hollywood, but you have to be a Jew.’ I said, ‘I don’t believe that, because I know other musicians in Hollywood who aren’t Jewish; you just have to face [the fact that] they invented it!’ ” Hanak-Lettner said.

From his perch in a chandelier-bedecked dining room overlooking Hillcrest’s magnificently manicured golf course, he concluded, “I don’t feel bad if lots of producing people are Jewish here. I mean, they came here and did all this, so why should it be different after 100 years?”