Righteous Who Saved Jews Honored
Almost 60 years after they risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, a Dutch couple and a one-time Polish partisan will be honored as Righteous Among the Nations on Sunday, Feb. 17 at the annual luncheon of the 1939 Club.
Accepting the honors, conferred by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, will be Jacek “Jack” Stocki and Hans Siegenthaler, the son of the late Hugo and Wijbrigje Siegenthaler.
Stocki (also known as Stocki-Sosnowski) was a 23-year-old jeweler and goldsmith in Krakow. After the Nazis occupied the city, Stocki paid a large bribe to spring one Jewish acquaintance from a Gestapo prison and then led the friend and another young Jew in an escape to Hungary.
When the German army took over Budapest, Stocki paid for surgical operations to “uncircumcise” the two Jewish men, which allowed them to pass as gentiles when confronted by the SS. Later, Stocki returned to Poland to fight as a partisan and then with the Polish army in exile.
Now an 82-year-old resident of Woodland Hills, Stocki cited his mother’s influence for his attitude toward Jews.
“My mother was a devout Catholic, who demanded from her children both discipline and altruism,” Stocki said. “She insisted that we help others in distress, and she was the first to help Jews after the Nazis came.”
Following the German conquest of Holland in 1940, the Siegenthalers, who lived in the town of Enschede, took in Annie Sanders Van Dam, a Jewish woman from Amsterdam, and hid her throughout the war, while her son found refuge in another house.
In addition, the Siegenthalers gave shelter to several other Jews. Their son will accept the honor for his late parents.
The younger Siegenthaler, a resident of Northridge, said that while his father was born Catholic and his mother Protestant, neither practiced their religions.
“They had Jewish friends and did what they could. There was nothing to discuss,” he said.
The native countries of the honorees, Poland and Holland, saw higher proportions of their Jewish populations slaughtered than any other countries in Europe, but also provided, by a wide margin, the largest number of gentile rescuers.
Of the more than 19,000 Righteous Among the Nations listed by Yad Vashem, 5,632 were Poles and 4,464 were Dutch.
At the ceremony on Sunday, Israeli Deputy Consul General Zvi Vapni will present short video clips he created of the honorees deeds, while Consul General Yuval Rotem will confer the Yad Vashem medals and certificates.
Also to be feted at the noon luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel will be filmmaker Jon Avnet for his docudrama, “Uprising,” commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto revolt.
For information, call Sonia Rosenwald at (310) 276-5401. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Educating the Educators
On Feb. 7, The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “The Holocaust and the Media: The Role of the Media in Implementation of the Holocaust” and the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust’s 19th annual “Music as Survival, Music as Resistance, Music as Response” aimed to provide teachers with the tools necessary to inform their students about the Holocaust from several different perspectives.
Noted historian and author Dr. Michael Berenbaum was the first speaker in the “Holocaust and the Media” series that will continue every Thursday through March 7 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Berenbaum’s lecture and film, “The Holocaust: The Untold Story,” delved into the American media’s failure to accurately report on the war against the Jews until it was too late.
The event was co-sponsored by the ADL, Survivors of the Shoah History Foundation, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and HUC-JIR.
Completion of the series will qualify the 17 LAUSD teachers in attendance for one unit toward a salary increase.
United Teachers of Los Angeles, the LAUSD and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted the program at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust. Featuring speakers, musicians and interactive sessions, the program focused on the idea that music has long been a tool of Jewish survival.
“Music is very important,” said Masha Loen, executive secretary and coordinator for the museum. “It has always been a part of Jewish life. Even while hopelessness weighed upon the Jews during the Holocaust, rabbis instructed Jews to pray and sing.”
Loen and volunteer chairs, Miriam Bell, Marie Kaufman and Dana Schwartz, were instrumental in organizing the event. — Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer
Israeli Singer Convicted of Bigamy
Singer and composer Matti Caspi, one of the dominant forces in Israeli popular music over the past 30 years, was convicted of bigamy last week in a Tel Aviv magistrate’s court.
The convoluted case, which has been dragging through the Israeli courts and media for 12 years, also involved Los Angeles Rabbi Gabriel Cohen in a controversial role.
In 1990, Caspi filed in the Tel Aviv rabbinical court for divorce from his wife of 15 years, Doreen, and the mother of his two children. As the divorce proceedings grew increasingly bitter and public, Caspi moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Rachel Wenger.
While Caspi was living in Los Angeles, Cohen granted him a divorce in 1994, and Caspi subsequently married Wenger in a civil ceremony. The couple has two daughters.
In his ruling in Tel Aviv, Judge Daniel Be’eri castigated Cohen and said he believes administrative steps should be taken by the rabbinical court against Cohen for granting Caspi a divorce.
However, in a phone interview, Cohen defended himself by saying that prior to granting the divorce, he had spent almost a year trying to get a ruling from the Tel Aviv rabbinical court.
Cohen then granted the divorce, after which Caspi’s attorney asked for a ruling from the chief rabbinical court in Jerusalem, which, according to Cohen, confirmed the validity of the divorce.
In any case, Cohen maintained, no secular court, whether in Israel or the United States, could overturn a divorce decree granted by rabbinical authority.
Cohen is the rabbi of Congregation Bais Naftali on La Brea Avenue. He emphasized that he did not even know that Caspi was a celebrity at the time the singer contacted him. “I helped Caspi as I would any other Jew,” Cohen said.
Caspi’s sentencing hearing is to take place in about a month. Although under Israeli law, Caspi could receive a five-year prison sentence, he may be sentenced to three years or less, in accordance with California law. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Grants for Young Entrepreneurs
Applications for 2003 Joshua Venture Fellowship Grants are now being accepted and due by April 1, 2002. Eight $60,000, two-year grants will go to “social entrepreneurs” with project proposals for Jewish revival projects, strengthening Jewish identity and activism.
Applicants must be between the ages of 21 to 35 and demonstrate a track record of entrepreneurial leadership. For more information or to submit a proposal, visit www.joshuaventure.org or call (415) 929-4989. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer
LAUSD Quran Controversy Resolved
A controversy over anti-Semitic references in a translation of the Quran sent to Los Angeles public schools has been resolved to the apparent satisfaction of both Jewish and Muslim community representatives.
At a meeting Feb. 11, called by the Los Angeles Unified School District, participants agreed to permanently withdraw “The Meaning of the Holy Quran” from school libraries and to appoint a committee to review future books explaining different religious faiths.
The book that triggered the flap, a 1934 translation of the Quran with footnotes and commentaries, described Jews at various points as “illiterate,” “arrogant” and “men without faith.”
Some 300 copies had been donated last month by the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation to the school district and were distributed without the customary content review to middle and high schools.
After a history teacher complained about the anti-Semitic references, the book was withdrawn form school libraries.
Dafer Dakhil, head of the Islamic foundation, apologized for the anti-Jewish commentaries at the closed-door meeting and agreed to the book’s withdrawal, according to one participant, Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee.
“We had a very cordial meeting and there was general agreement that the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation had donated the Quran translations without any malicious intent,” Hirschfeld said in a phone interview.
Also participating in the meeting was Marjorie Green, western states education director for the Anti-Defamation League.
On the Muslim side, representatives included Salam Al-Marayati and Dr. Maher Hathout, two leading spokesmen of their community.
The cordiality of the meeting was taken as a sign of reduced friction between Southern California’s large Jewish and Muslim communities, which had been on the rise over the past year. ” — TT