Category : In the News
By Haaretz | Dec. 10, 2014
British PM says U.K. ‘must fight against prejudice, persecution, anti-Semitism and tyranny wherever we find it.’
British Prime Minister David Cameron was “filled with an overwhelming sense of grief” when he visited Auschwitz for the first time Wednesday, he said.
Cameron made a special trip to Poland from Turkey to visit the death camp, setting down a memorial candle and signing the visitors book, the Guardian reported.
“I wanted to come here to see for myself the place where over 1 million people, the vast majority from Europe’s Jewish communities, lost their lives at the hands of the murderous Nazi regime,” Cameron said in a statement after the visit. “As I walked round the gas chamber, past the children’s shoes and down the railway tracks, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of grief for all those who were killed simply because of their faith, their beliefs or their ethnicity.”
He said the United Kingdom “must fight against prejudice, persecution, anti-Semitism and tyranny wherever we find it and stand up for inclusiveness, tolerance and peace,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.
In the visitors book, Cameron quoted Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
“I wanted to come and see for myself this place where the darkest chapter of human history happened,” he wrote. “As Elie Wiesel said, failing to remember those who were murdered would be akin to killing them all over again.”
Cameron also discussed the Holocaust Commission he set up last year, saying he hopes it will “teach future generations what took place – and that we must never forget all those who were murdered here and at other camps and at other places.”
Per Anger in 1942. The Swedish diplomat saved thousands of Jewish lives during WWII.Photo by Wikimedia Commons
By Alona Ferber | Dec. 7, 2014
Working with Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedes were to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi death machine during WWII.
On December 7, 1913, Per Johan Anger, a non-Jewish Swedish diplomat who would save thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II, was born. Working with Raoul Wallenberg, Anger risked his life in Nazi-occupied Hungary and was recognized in 1981 by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Born and raised in the southern Swedish city of Gothenberg, Anger studied law and was drafted after graduating in 1939, just as war was breaking out between the Soviet Union and Finland – followed a few months later, in September, by World War II. In January 1940, Anger traded the military for diplomacy. His first posting was as trainee in the trade section of the Swedish legation in Berlin.
He didn’t end up only dealing with commerce, however. When the mission learned the Nazis were planning to attack Norway and Denmark, he began passing intelligence to Stockholm.
Back in Sweden, in June 1941 Anger became an official member of Sweden’s diplomatic corps, working at the Foreign Ministry trade division and dealing with trade ties between Sweden and Hungary. A year later, he was appointed second secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest, and in November 1942 was transferred to Hungary’s capital.
The Germans invade
While Anger was still cutting his diplomatic teeth, on March 19, 1944, German troops invaded Hungary. The Nazi invasion led to mass deportations of Jews to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland, with most going to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The deportations were overseen by Adolf Eichmann.
The invasion changed everything for the young envoy, as desperate Jews sought help at diplomatic missions in Hungary’s capital. Anger responded by issuing Jews with Swedish travel documents, in order to prevent their deportation or internment. He began with issuing about 700 travel documents, negotiated with the Germans to recognize their bearers as Swedish citizens – and reported to Stockholm about what was happening to Hungary’s Jews.
Hungary’s Jews numbered some 861,000, and that 700 was a drop in the sea. The Swedish legation asked Stockholm for help.
Raoul Wallenberg arrives
Help arrived on July 9. Under diplomatic cover, and with backing from the U.S. War Refugee Board, Raoul Wallenberg came to the Swedish legation with a mission to rescue the Jews.
Aside from creating “safe houses” with welfare and health-care facilities, Wallenberg introduced the Schutzpasse – blue and gold-colored passports – between summer and fall 1944. The two diplomats also saved hundreds of lives during death marches, grabbing Jews from the column and saying they were protected by Sweden. Altogether, the two men are credited with saving tens of thousands of Jewish lives.
The Hungarian National Socialist Party Arrow Cross took power in October 1944, and in January 1945 the Soviet Union invaded. Both Anger and Wallenberg were detained. After three months, Anger was released. Wallenberg was never seen again.
Anger, who continued his diplomatic career after the war, never gave up trying to find his friend and colleague, but in vain.
Years later, Anger recalled that time in his life in an interview with VI magazine: “First then everything was revealed. Mainly by stories from people who managed to escape. We sent home reports of extermination camps, sketches of the gas chambers in Auschwitz … We became witnesses to what we didn’t think was possible: a systematic extermination of people.”
Based in Vienna in 1956, he also helped thousands of Hungarians cross the border with Austria after the failed uprising against the Soviet government.
Anger received numerous awards. Yad Vashem recognized him as Righteous Among the Nations in 1981, alongside Wallenberg (who was honored in 1963), Oskar Schindler, and others. In 1995, he was awarded a Hungarian Order of Merit, and Israel granted him honorary citizenship in 2000. In his native Sweden, in 2001 he won the Illis Quorum Meruere Labores (For Those Whose Labors Have Deserved It), the highest award the Swedish government can give a citizen.
Anger died in 2002, aged 88. In his memory, Sweden established the Per Anger Prize for initiatives supporting human rights and democracy. In 2014, the recipient of the prize was Nepalese human rights defender Rita Mahato.
Alois Brunner in an undated photo. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE — GETTY IMAGES
New York Times, By Jodi Rudoren, December 1, 2014
JERUSALEM — A leading Nazi hunter said on Monday that Adolf Eichmann’s top lieutenant, long one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, died at least four years ago in Syria, where he had escaped justice and may have advised the government.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, said the lieutenant, Alois Brunner, was responsible for the deportation of 128,500 Jews to death camps, and described him as Eichmann’s “right-hand man.” Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, was apprehended, tried and executed by Israel in 1962.
Mr. Brunner was tried in absentia and sentenced to death by France in 1954, and he had been the subject of at least two assassination attempts attributed to the Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
“He was a notorious anti-Semite, sadist, fanatic Nazi,” Mr. Zuroff said in a telephone interview on Monday, after the British newspaper The Sunday Express reported his confirmation of Mr. Brunner’s death. “The only known interview we have with him was to a German news magazine in 1985, in which he was asked if he had any regrets, and he said, ‘My only regret is I didn’t murder more Jews.’ ” (more…)
German and Israeli researchers have sketched buildings at Auschwitz that no longer exist. The Cologne exhibit provides chilling detail.
Haaretz, By Ofer Aderet 26.11.14
A drawing from the exhibition, by Władysław Siwek, 1950. / Photo by Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum
The drawings at a new exhibition in the German city of Cologne portray 50 ordinary-looking buildings. But these buildings weren’t ordinary — they stood at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Germans’ largest extermination camp built in occupied Poland during World War II.
At its height, Auschwitz was a constellation of 45 camps covering 40 square kilometers (15 square miles). Around 1.2 million people were murdered there, most of them Jews.
Last weekend, an exhibition opened at the National Socialism Documentation Center in Cologne entitled “Todesfabrik Auschwitz — Topographie und Alltag” (“The Auschwitz Death Factory – Topography and Everyday Life”). The exhibition marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which falls on January 27.
Over 70 years, a huge number of exhibitions, books and films have been produced about Auschwitz, but the new exhibition presents the camp from a different perspective — Auschwitz on the drawing board. According to historian Gideon Greif, an Israeli involved in the exhibition, only about 20 percent of the wartime structures at the death and labor camp remain.
But the new exhibition makes it possible to reconstruct the other 80 percent to the last detail. The idea is to better understand how the death machine worked — from the ramps where Jews arrived to the gas chambers.
“This is a different exhibition about Auschwitz,” Greif told Haaretz by phone from Cologne. “Its key point is the huge disparity between what was normal and not normal. The buildings at the camp were ordinary, but their content wasn’t routine or normal at all.”
For his research, Greif, an expert on Auschwitz, linked up with German architect Peter Siebers of Cologne. “There is a very beautiful message: the fact that a German architect is working with an Israeli historian on a subject such as Auschwitz,” Greif said. “When a Jew and a German work together on such a sensitive and complex topic, it’s no routine matter.”
In recent years, the pair traveled between Poland, Germany and Israel to complete their research and, as Greif put it, “to reconstruct these camps to the last structure, to the doorstep of the last house and the last stone.”
Aerial photographs, construction plans, maps, pictures, books, personal testimony and films were used to recreate Auschwitz. The two did most of their research in the archives of the Auschwitz museum, which was a partner to the study. More work was carried out in the archives of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.
One big insane asylum
What Greif and Siebers couldn’t find in their research, they looked for on site. “We set out for Auschwitz with measuring tape and began to measure,” Greif said.
The sketches of the 50 buildings are clean and aesthetic, leaving the viewer “cold,” as Greif put it. Still, the drawings provide a full sense of what went on.
“Auschwitz was an insane world that had everything including a brothel and an orchestra,” Greif added. “There were no human phenomena that didn’t occur at Auschwitz.”
A drawing by Władysław Siwek, 1949. Credit: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
All these phenomena find expression in the drawings. “We didn’t flinch from dealing with the most delicate of subjects such as the young people who served functionaries at the camp sexually,” Greif said.
“It was a world of contrasts, bizarreness and madness — one big insane asylum in which people were murdered with Vivaldi playing in the background.”
A drawing by Jan Komski, 1990-1997. Credit: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
The drawings show how the site operated — the functionality of each building and the calculated planning by the architects and engineers. They make clear the straight line from the architects’ offices to the crematoria.
“Our goal is to understand the horror from the point of view of the murderers,” Barbara Kirschbaum, a staff member at the Cologne center, told the German newspaper Express.
As the center’s director Werner Jung put it: “It’s hard to believe the steps that the German engineers took at the site to ensure that the largest number of people would be murdered.”
Easier to believe is that if the exhibition had been staged decades ago, Albert Speer’s life would have been different. Speer, an architect as well as armaments and war production minister for Hitler, cheated the hangman by portraying himself as a reasonable Nazi unaware of the scope of the regime’s crimes. At the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and died a free man in 1981.
In the exhibition, there’s also artwork by Auschwitz inmates showing routine life at the camp. There are also 25 photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau as it exists today, as well as a model of the crematoria and gas chambers.
The exhibition received funding from entities including the German Foreign Ministry and the Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation. It will be displayed around Germany and Poland; it may even come to Israel. An accompanying book will be published in the next several months.
Redrawing Auschwitz to the last bitter splinter
Their job: To build an ersatz ‘model town’ demonstrating that despite the rumors, the Nazis were treating the Jews well, so nothing need be done on their behalf.
Haaretz, By David B. Green | Nov. 24, 2014 | 9:16 AM
On November 24, 1941, the first Jewish deportees – a thousand in number – arrived at Theresienstadt, in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, to prepare the Habsburg-era military garrison for service as a concentration camp. Early the next year, Theresienstadt was to begin functioning in several capacities: as a transit station for Jews destined for death camps further to the east; as a benign-appearing settlement for elderly Jews and for decorated German-Jewish veterans of World War I; and as a “model community” for Jewish intellectuals, artists and other professionals. Both of the latter categories served solely for German propaganda purposes.
The garrison town of Theresienstadt (in German; its Czech name is Terezin) was established in 1784 by the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II, who named it in memory of his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. Physically, it consists of a small military fortress on the eastern side of the Ohre River, southeast of Leitomerz in the modern-day Czech Republic. Across the river is a larger complex that served as a residential village for the families of the soldiers serving at the fortress.
After the Germans occupied Czech Bohemia and Moravia, in March 1939, the Gestapo began using the small fortress as a prison, and the larger fortress as a military base.
In October 1941, as the Nazis began planning the first deportations of German, Austrian and Czech Jews to the east, they decided to evacuate the 7,000 soldiers and civilians living there, and convert the town into a transit camp and ghetto. On October 30, SS First Lieutenant Siegfried Seidl was given the duty of setting up the camp. For that purpose, he ordered the leaders of the Jewish community of Prague (about 65 kms away), to supply 1,000 Jews to undertake design and construction work. That group arrived at noon on November 24.
Distraction and deceit
Theresienstadt’s function was discussed at the January 20, 1942, Wannsee Conference, where planning for the “Final Solution” was carried out. The German security chief, Reinhard Heydrich, proposed using it as something of a “retirement community” for elderly Jews and decorated or disabled Jewish war veterans, who were unfit for the labor for which, according to the fiction then being disseminated by the Nazis, Jews were supposedly being relocated in the east.
To Heydrich’s thinking, setting up this model town could “eliminate at one stroke the many interventions” that might be anticipated from various quarters – whether it be suspicious citizens of the Reich or foreign officials – on behalf of Jews in these categories.
Similar reasoning was behind the later decision to expand the qualifications for deportation to Theresienstadt to include people of “special merit”: professors, artists, musicians, jurists and the like, from Czechoslovakia and, to a lesser extent, from the Netherlands and Denmark.
Realizing the propaganda value that could accrue from having a showcase camp, the Germans allowed the Jewish inmates of Theresienstadt to organize for themselves a rich cultural program, which included musical ensembles, theater, art workshops, public lectures by many of the distinguished intellectuals imprisoned there, and a full school curriculum for the children.
Nonetheless, behind the polished façade, physical conditions at Theresienstadt were appalling, and mortality from disease and starvation was very high. Whereas the barracks, for example, were intended for a maximum capacity of 7,000 residents, at its most crowded, in September 1942, the Theresienstadt ghetto was home to 58,000 Jews.
That same month, a crematorium was built to accommodate the growing number of dead bodies.
Theresienstadt, the movie
In June 1944, the Germans capitulated to pressure from the Danish Red Cross, and allowed it to send a delegation to visit the camp. Once the effort was made to clean up Theresienstadt, it was decided to produce a propaganda film about it as well. The result was “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City,” a highly idealized depiction of Theresienstadt as something akin to a resort, produced entirely by Jewish prisoners.
The day after filming ended, nearly all of those involved in the movie were deported to Auschwitz.
By the end of the war, approximately 144,000 Jews had been imprisoned in Theresienstadt. Fewer than 20,000 of them would survive the war.
Haaretz, By Ofer Aderet | Nov. 15, 2014
Rafael Reiss, one of seven parachutists sent into Nazi-occupied Europe in 1944, was executed and then largely forgotten. Seventy years after his death, his only daughter does not regret his anonymity
Edna Reiss Leshem keeps the mementos from her father, Rafael Reiss, in a large wooden box in her bedroom. He was born 100 years ago last summer, around the outbreak of World War I, and next week will see the 70th anniversary of his death, during the final year of World War II.
Reiss was one of seven young men and women who were sent from Palestine in 1944 to parachute behind enemy lines in Europe, and who died in the course of the mission. A total of 37 volunteers were sent by the British Army and the Jewish community in Palestine to rescue Jews and help the British war effort. These seven lost their lives. Another member of the group, Haviva Reik, is memorialized in the name of a kibbutz (Lehavot Haviva) and the educational center of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair movement (Givat Haviva). An illegal immigrant ship was also named after her. A third parachutist, Hannah Szenes, who was also murdered 70 years ago this month, became a symbol and a national heroine in the wake of the poems she left. The leader of the group, Enzo Sereni, murdered in November 1944, was commemorated by having a kibbutz named after him (Netzer Sereni).
But Reiss and three other parachutists remained unknown to the general public. Reiss’s daughter, Edna, who was a year old when her father was murdered, does not regret the anonymity. She knows that this was her father’s explicit wish. One of the items in the box of mementos is the last letter her father sent to her and her mother, Naomi. He wrote it on November 19, 1944, in a Slovakian jail, on the last night of his life. The letter was smuggled out of the prison by a partisan fighter and eventually reached Israel. On November 20, Reiss and Reik were put on a truck and driven to a mass grave, where they were shot.
“Dear Naomi, Edna, I have no idea whether this letter will reach you,” Reiss wrote. “Oh, how much I wish it will arrive. I want to part with both of you for all time. All the signs are that I have arrived, if not at the end of my goal, then at all events at the end of my life. It sounds so banal that I can’t help laughing. I have known clearly for quite some time that I will be shot, but still, it’s odd to be sitting here in prison knowing that this is the last evening of my life.”
In the letter, which became his testament, Reiss requested that he not be made a hero after his death. “I am not in the least tired of life, but I have lived long enough for me to be able to part from you before my eternal rest. Please do not take this very tragically. Even though it is about me, you must understand it as though you are hearing about one of millions. It is pleasant for me to know that I will not disappear from the world without leaving traces behind. By that I mean Edna and your love for me.”
He added, “I do not ask for any monument other than that feeling, and I object to the idea of being made a national hero. If anyone knows about the events, it is I who know that no heroism was involved. It always pained me when people thought too much of me, and I have the right to ask that my daughter should know me as I was – for her to know the human person in me, with all his mistakes and faults.”
The conclusion of the letter strikes a dramatic note. “There is a vast stream of people going to their death. Tomorrow I will join them, or more accurately, we will join them, because going with me is Haviva, from Ma’anit in Karkour,” he wrote, referring to Haviva Reik from Kibbutz Ma’anit. “Your photographs accompanied me on my path, and when the going became difficult I took out the pictures and was a bit ‘at home.’ Do not lament me, for I embarked on my path with eyes open. I am sure of myself and do not regret a single step I took.”
‘Where is daddy?’
Seventy years have gone by since then. Naomi, Reiss’s wife, who was left to raise their baby daughter on Kibbutz Sde Nehemia, remarried and became the mother of another son and daughter. She suffered another tragedy when her daughter from her second marriage was killed in a tractor accident. Edna grew up with her half-brother. “I don’t remember my father at all, my memories are from stories I was told,” she said this week while looking at two small photographs placed together in a red frame. One of them shows her father, in uniform, holding her, an infant girl. The other shows her with her father and mother. “At some stage you feel that memory is escaping from you,” she observed, explaining her decision to frame the photos and paste a red heart next to them.
She started to understand that she didn’t have a father when she was three or four. “My mother went away one evening,” Reiss recalls. “The kibbutz children asked me, ‘Why doesn’t your father put you to sleep instead of her?’ I said nothing, but when my mother came back I started to ask her questions: ‘Where is daddy?’ ‘What does it mean to die?’ ‘What is war?’ I gradually created a framework that I could deal with as a girl of that age.”
A more stark encounter occurred in 1952, when her father’s remains were brought to Israel along with those of Haviva Reik. A few years earlier, the two had been buried in the military section of a cemetery in Prague, at first beneath a cross, later replaced by a Star of David. After the necessary authorizations were obtained, a delegation from Israel flew to Prague to bring the remains of the two parachutists home. An El Al plane carried them on the return journey, for burial on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem.
“I was nine,” Edna Reiss Leshem says. “I remember the coffin, which was first taken to Kibbutz Sde Nehemia. We prepared a large wreath of carnations, because mom said that was the flower dad loved best. An uncle lifted me up so I could place the wreath on the coffin, which was in the kibbutz dining room with an honor guard of kibbutz members.”
The choir at the ceremony was conducted by Yehuda Sharett, brother of Moshe Sharett, Israel’s first foreign minister. The next day, on the way to Jerusalem, the coffin passed by the village of Rosh Pina. “I saw women weeping along the roadside. I asked my mother why they were crying if they didn’t know him,” she related.
Edna, who lost her father when she was still an infant, would later be in charge of the delivery room at Poriya Hospital, in Tiberias. “It’s an amazing profession, one that helps women at the most meaningful moments of their life,” she noted. She herself is the mother of four sons, and has eight grandchildren. They are “scattered around the world,” she said. The eldest son, who inherited his grandfather’s good hands, is a carpenter in Berlin. The others live in Florida, Holland and Canada.
The box with her father’s mementos is like a time capsule for her. There are dozens of photographs of Rafi Reiss. They track the course of his life from Budapest, where he was born, via Nove Zamky, in Slovakia, where the family moved when he was a boy; then to Bratislava, where he began medical studies in 1932 and where he joined a Zionist student organization; the illegal immigrants ship on which he reached Palestine in 1939; Atlit detention camp, where he was incarcerated by the British for a year; agricultural training before settling on Kvutzat Huliyot, which later became Kibbutz Sde Nehemia; courses in the pre-state Haganah and Palmah militias, where he became a parachutist; and training in Egypt before leaving for Europe.
In addition to the photographs, the wooden box also contains Reiss’s letters and personal belongings. All of them are testimony to his dramatic life after he left Palestine, as documented in a book by the writer and Palmah member Tehila Ofer and Zeev Ofer (“Haviva Reick: a Kibbutz Pioneer’s Mission and Fall Behind Nazi Lines,” 2014.
Reiss parachuted into Yugoslavia in the summer of 1944, in territory held by Josip Tito’s partisans. Subsequently, after the capture of Hannah Szenes, Reiss, Reik and others were sent to the mountains of Slovakia, from where they planned to enter Hungary. On the way, they helped Jews who had remained in Nazi-occupied Europe.
From his mission he wrote to his family: “If I ever doubted the value of this mission compared to the danger it entails, today all those thoughts have disappeared without a trace. Can you understand what it means for these unfortunates to see someone who is coming to them from security, from freedom, from the Land of Israel, and only for them, only to offer them help, to be with them! The faith and the hope that our sheer presence stirred amid this downtrodden Jewry make up for the dangers this mission involves.” He was too late to save his mother, who was sent to the camps; and finally he, too, fell into the hands of the Germans.
Fragments of his life are preserved in that box in the home of his only child. There is a calendar carved from wood on which he drew Snow White’s seven dwarfs and sent to his daughter as a present. Buttons from his coat. Pins, medals and certificates he received. A compass. His Histadrut labor federation membership, and souvenirs he sent from Egypt.
“For quite a long time, we visited his grave once a year, but over time the custom faded away. These days I prefer to sit at home with pictures and not with stones,” Rafi Reiss’s daughter said this week, as the 70th anniversary of his death approached.
By Haaretz | Nov. 13, 2014
The survey, which was conducted by the Warsaw University Center for Research on Prejudice, also found that 14 percent of the survey participants acknowledged that racist hate speech was common in Poland.
Over half of Poland’s young people access anti-Semitic Internet sites that praise Hitler and Nazism, the Fox News website reported, citing a Warsaw University study.
The results of the survey were presented to the Polish parliament earlier this month, reviving attention to hate speech legislation and sparking concern among members of the small remaining Polish Jewish community.
The survey, which was conducted by the Warsaw University Center for Research on Prejudice, also found that 14 percent of the survey participants acknowledged that racist hate speech was common in Poland.
Fully 21 percent of young people polled and 19 percent of Polish adult participants in the survey opposed the banning of hate speech, however. “What is most important for me is that so many young people accept hate speech,” the center’s director, Michael Bilewicz, told FoxNews.com in a telephone interview.
“In fact, more than adults. And the young are the future of Poland.” Bilewicz said the courts in Poland are failing to enforce laws against hate speech, which in turn makes the problem worse. “Judges must maintain the fine balance between protecting free speech and banning rhetoric designed to incite hate,” he said.
Bilewicz, who co-authored the study and is an assistant professor at Warsaw University, said that the poll surveyed 653 Polish young people between the ages of 16 and 18 and also polled a group of 1,007 adults.
“Contrary to what might be expected, it is the young who often display anti-democratic and xenophobic attitudes on a mass scale today,” Rafal Pankowsi, a political science professor at Warsaw’s Collegium Civitas, said.
But Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat, a major benefactor of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, countered that, as he sees it, Jews live a safer existence and are more well-accepted in Poland than in Western Europe. The new opinion survey, the report says, overly emphasized the views of a bigoted minority.
But an earlier survey of Warsaw high school students also seems to reflect substantial prejudice against Jews on the part of Polish young people. The poll, released in April by the same Warsaw University institute, found that 44 percent of the students did not even want a Jewish neighbor.
By Karen Jones, November 6, 2014
With blockbusters that include “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Saving Private Ryan,” Steven Spielberg has garnered nearly every accolade Hollywood can bestow. It was 1993’s “Schindler’s List,” however, that gave the director the opportunity to create a very different legacy — “something I was put on this earth to do,” Mr. Spielberg said.
“Schindler’s List” is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps during World War II. It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, and lit the spark for what is now the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education.
While filming “Schindler’s List” in Poland, Mr. Spielberg was visited by Holocaust survivors eager to have their stories told, and some survivors appeared at the end of the film. Mr. Spielberg fulfilled a promise to give them a voice by establishing the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994 to film and preserve first-person survivor testimonies and encourage their use in education.
Mr. Spielberg wanted each survivor’s life story recorded, not just war experiences. An international team of interviewers collected the accounts into the Visual History Archive, more than 53,000 stories from Holocaust survivors in more than 50 countries and more than 30 languages. After the herculean task of compiling the initial testimonies was completed, Mr. Spielberg felt the time was right “for Shoah to graduate and go to the next level,” said C. L. Max Nikias, president of the University of Southern California.
Shoah became part of the university in 2006, moving from Universal Studios, to ensure the digital preservation of the Visual History Archive and make the most of its educational potential, with over 109,000 hours of video testimony. Mr. Spielberg is a trustee of the university. The archive is a global resource for teachers, students and scholars, said Dr. Nikias. “There are over 400 universities on four continents that utilize it,” he said.
Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the institute, said the archive was used for educational purposes through IWitness, a free Internet-based platform started by the institute in 2012 that allows students access to survivor testimonies for use in subjects like English, history and civics studies. More than 22,000 students in nearly 60 countries have used IWitness.
“Viewing testimony personalizes the past in a way that a textbook or a film cannot,” said Michelle Sadrena Clark, who teaches United States history and American literature at High Tech High North County in San Marcos, Calif. “A human being is the most dynamic textbook. If students can connect, they can care.”
Mrs. Clark says she believes that viewing survivor testimonies has made her students “more tolerant of different ethnicities and different backgrounds, and more grateful for the opportunities they have.” The institute started incorporating survivors’ testimonies from other genocides in 2013 and recently began the Center for Advanced Genocide Research with initial funding from the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation and other sources. The genocide center provides an academic forum for experts to study how mass violence occurs.
“We are not an advocacy organization, but by collecting testimony of those who experience violent societies and archiving them in a trusted repository accessible by advocacy groups, policy makers and peacekeepers, we can provide a timely voice,” said Dr. Smith.
Timed for the 20th anniversary of the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation and the wide release of “Schindler’s List” in 1994, the genocide center will hold its inaugural international conference this month.
In an interview, Mr. Spielberg expressed satisfaction with the last two decades of effort. “Collecting the testimonies was the start, but it would have meant nothing if others didn’t hear or did not learn from them,” Mr. Spielberg said. “It is very gratifying when students respond, when they find parallels from the Holocaust and all the things occurring today that can create the tinderbox for another genocide.”
Sherry Amatenstein, a therapist, conducted 66 interviews with survivors for the institute over two years. A child of Holocaust survivors herself, she said that though the interview process was emotionally draining, “I knew how important it was for survivors to give testimony. Many survived because they wanted to believe there was some goodness and light in the world and that they survived for a reason.”
Celina Biniaz was the youngest female on Oskar Schindler’s list. When she and 300 other women were sent to Auschwitz, Oskar Schindler intervened and arranged for their transfer to his munitions factory until the end of the war. Mrs. Biniaz later emigrated to the United States.
An early participant in providing testimony, Mrs. Biniaz, 83, calls Mr. Spielberg “a second Schindler” for what he has done for survivors. Today when she talks publicly about her experiences, she emphasizes that “revenge and hatred are corrosive and do not let you move forward.”
Mr. Spielberg said he was grateful to have been in a position to help survivors like Mrs. Biniaz. When asked how he felt about being called “a second Schindler,” he said, “It’s a beautiful thing to say, and it makes me feel proud, yet humbled. I feel like I have 53,000 grandparents.”
The New York Times, By DEBORAH E. LIPSTADT OCT. 31, 2014
In the wake of World War II, America recruited a few leading German scientists in order to advance our space and military programs and to keep these valuable assets from falling into Soviet hands. This is the broadly accepted script about Nazis in America. In fact, as Eric Lichtblau, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, relates in “The Nazis Next Door,” we welcomed approximately 10,000 Nazis, some of whom had played pivotal roles in the genocide.
While portions of this story are not new — see Annie Jacobsen’s book “Operation Paperclip,” for example — Licht¬blau offers additional archival information in all its infuriating detail. (He conducted some of his research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, on whose supervisory committee I serve. I had no role in his selection as a fellow at the center.)
America began reaching out to leading Nazis months before the Germans surrendered. In March 1945, while the war still raged, the American spy chief Allen Dulles conducted a friendly fireside chat in the library of a Zurich apartment with the Nazi general Karl Wolff, the closest associate of the SS leader Heinrich Himm¬ler for much of the war. The Scotch-¬lubricated conversation convinced Dulles that Wolff, despite his ties to Himmler and his role as a leader of the Waffen SS, was a moderate who deserved protection. When prosecutors sought to try Wolff, one of the highest-ranking SS leaders to survive, at Nuremberg, Dulles worked to have his name removed from the list of defendants. While Wolff was in Allied custody, he was permitted to take a yacht trip, spend time with his family and carry a gun. Nonetheless, he complained that what he endured was “much more inhumane than the extermination of the Jews.” He said the Jews had been gassed in a few seconds, while he did not know how long he would be held. (His imprisonment lasted four years.)
While Jews languished in the camps after Germany’s defeat (“We felt like so much surplus junk,” one survivor said), the United States gathered up Nazi scientists. Had only leading scientists been enlisted, it would have been distasteful if understandable. But of the more than 1,600 scientists brought over, some had pedestrian skills. Others had developed the chemicals for the gas chambers, or conducted experiments on concentration camp prisoners. Even the State Department protested.
But we did not stop with scientists. The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. sought out spies and informants who had participated in genocide. For these agencies, engaging in murder was acceptable as long as the recruits did not lie about their record. Ultimately, most of these “informants” never provided any valuable information. Some even offered bogus reports.
But these intelligence agencies remained their greatest protectors. In the 1980s, when the Justice Department began to hunt war criminals who had lied in order to enter this country, both agencies actively obstructed the investigations. They were also protected by White House officials such as Pat Buchanan, then a top aide to Ronald Reagan, who denounced the Justice Department’s “revenge obsessed” and “hairy-chested Nazi hunters” as dupes of the Soviets. And the largest group of Nazis who entered America simply slipped in through “the back door,” according to Lichtblau. They gamed the system and immigrated as “refugees,” starting new lives as thousands of people perished in the Allied camps.
Lichtblau brings ample investigative skills and an elegant writing style to this unsavory but important story. “The Nazis Next Door” is a captivating book rooted in first-rate research.
THE NAZIS NEXT DOOR
How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men
By Eric Lichtblau
Illustrated. 266 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28.
Deborah E. Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University. Her most recent book is “The Eichmann Trial.”
By Jane Gross October 23, 2014
“And Then There Were None.’’
The title of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery, her masterpiece, spooled through my mind on a recent visit to the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, where my mother died 11 years ago.
Out on the patio, one man sat in the sunshine with his visiting children and grandchildren. On his left forearm was the telltale tattoo of time spent in Auschwitz, marking him a survivor of the death camp where one million Jews lost their lives.
The string of letters and numbers, vivid more than 70 years later, is a ghastly sight no matter how many times you’ve seen one. But each year, at an accelerating pace, there are fewer survivors left to remind us of the last century’s atrocities.
The number varies in different accounts, but Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently told the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging that 140,000 survivors remain in the United States. A decade ago at the Hebrew Home, there seemed to be hundreds. Now there are 40, among a total of 800 residents.
They are cared for as the deaths they once barely escaped are bearing down again. Some have always lived in a fog of fear. Others are grateful to be alive, to the point of exuberance, and still others are guilty to have survived for no reason other than luck. None are like the other aged residents here, facing death in its expected time. They have spent too long already staring into the abyss.
Rabbi Simon Hirschhorn, himself the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, said that his multigenerational work with these families is the most satisfying and important work he does. As a nursing home clergyman, he is always guiding parents and their adult children through what is arguably the most difficult transition of their lives.
Some of the elderly survivors cry inconsolably but wordlessly, incapable or unwilling to articulate anything about the past. Others, often dry-eyed, incessantly discuss the terrible things they saw and had to do to save their lives.
And they often flip, all but overnight, from one way of coping to the other as the end of life approaches.
Their adult children, Rabbi Hirschhorn continued, struggle more than others with the guilt of placing a parent in an institutional setting — particularly one that may evoke memories of confinement.
Those who wound up in one of the camps with gas chambers, the rabbi said, are often traumatized by the congregate showers in some nursing homes. How could they not be? At Auschwitz, internees were given shards of soap and towels and told the showers were for the purpose of delousing them. Then deadly hydrogen cyanide spewed into the chambers.
Survivors’ children “grow up, from the time they are little, with the unconscious wish to make it better, to take away the pain,’’ said Rabbi Hirschhorn, who is also an analyst in private practice.
Charlotte Dell, the head social worker at the Hebrew Home and also the child of Holocaust survivors, said, “I remember from the moment I could understand things that I couldn’t understand this. Isn’t it beyond comprehension that something so atrocious could happen?”
She “read everything’’ about the horrors her parents lived through and carried a “feeling of inadequacy, of not doing enough.’’ There has always been, for her, “an overwhelming feeling of responsibility that there is no additional suffering.’’
By contrast, she said without judgment, her sister, six years younger, “does not want to hear, to know, to talk. It’s just too painful, and that’s her way of coping.”
Ms. Dell’s late father wouldn’t speak of the Holocaust through most of his life; by the time he wanted to, Alzheimer’s disease had muddled his ability to open up.
Growing up, Ms. Dell’s mother “bombarded’’ her daughters with information about that time. She “speaks less of it’’ now, Ms. Dell said, speculating that advanced age and Parkinson’s disease have made her too vulnerable, too focused on surviving in the most immediate sense of the word.
Surviving in the camps and long afterward in the company of others like themselves has been a solitary ordeal. She and the rabbi had hoped that support groups for the resident survivors would help them “be present’’ for one another. Instead, the groups degenerated into a nasty competition. Suffering at Auschwitz trumped suffering at Dachau. Tattoos became perverse status symbols.
Recently, the rabbi looked west from the patio, where the sky was turning pink.
“All of these people will have to be said goodbye to, and soon,” he said. “Then we have to shift from witness to memory.’’