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Category : In the News

New Warsaw memorial to honor Poles who saved Jews during Holocaust

In this 1943 photo, a group of Polish Jews are led away for deportation by German SS soldiers during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after an uprising in the Jewish quarter. Photo by AP

Haaretz, By, David Green, October 12, 2014 – JTA | Sep. 9

Monument, which will be erected on the location of the Warsaw Ghetto, will be financed entirely by Jews in Israel and other countries.

Organizers have announced a design competition for a memorial in Warsaw to Poles who saved Jews during World War II.

Polish-born Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Sigmund Rolat, of the Remembrance and Future Foundation, announced the competition at a news conference in Warsaw on Monday.

Rolat said the designs would be judged by an international jury and the winner will be announced in April. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated in the fall of 2015. (more…)

This Day in Jewish History / The Nazis tell Warsaw’s Jews they’ll be imprisoned in the ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto wall near Lubomirski Palace, May 24, 1941. Photo by Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

Haaretz, By David B. Green | Oct. 12, 2014

By 1943, more than 300,000 residents of the ghetto would be killed, many at Treblinka.

October 12, 1940, is the day the German occupiers of Warsaw informed the city’s Jews they were to be confined to a ghetto. Slightly less than a month later, on November 16, the Warsaw Ghetto was sealed off. At its peak, the small enclave was home to some 400,000 people.

On the eve of World War II, the Jews of Warsaw had numbered about 375,000, around 30 percent of the overall population of 1.25 million. That number rose to 450,000 after the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, as refugees poured into the city. (more…)

How the Holocaust slowly reached the front page of Haaretz

Haaretz report from October 8, 1942, headline reading: “Planning the annihilation of Europe’s Jews?” Photo by Haaretz archives

Haaretz, By Ofer Aderet | Oct. 8, 2014 | 4:40 PM

In an era when news reporting was far more cumbersome, it took time before the horrific reality sunk in.

Seventy-two years ago this week, on Thursday October 8, 1942, the first report of the extermination of Europe’s Jews appeared on page 2 of Haaretz under the headline “Plotting to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews?” A month later, the reports had reached the front page.

The article, whose byline was listed as Palcor, the news agency of the Jewish Agency, stated: “Reports are growing from reliable non-Jewish sources that the entire process of the deportation to Eastern Europe of Jews from Germany and the various countries it has occupied is not intended at all to employ the deportees as forced labor, but rather to execute them en masse.” (more…)

Toys that tell the story of the Holocaust’s youngest victims

Haaretz, By Dafna Arad | Oct. 2, 2014

Dolls at the Yad Vashem exhibit on toys during the Holocaust, September 2014. Photo by Emil Salman

A 1996 exhibit at Yad Vashem, “No Child’s Play: Children in the Holocaust: Creativity and Play,” was supposed to be temporary. It would include children’s artifacts from the Holocaust like dolls, toys and drawings.

The title was taken from the book “Rules of Life: A Childhood of Dignity” by Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish pediatrician famous for accompanying the orphans under his care to Treblinka.

The exhibit was supposed to be open for three months, but it’s still there, maybe because it’s painful to close an exhibit that touches the hearts of young ones. Included are children’s descriptions of the toys they played with during the Holocaust – toys that their parents improvised or that they made themselves. There are also teddy bears and board games. (more…)

Ken Burns & PBS Whitewash FDR on the Holocaust: Who Shut America’s Doors to Jewish Refugees?

by Rafael Medoff

(Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, www.WymanInstitute.org and author of 15 books about the Holocaust and Jewish history.)

For seven consecutive nights in September, PBS aired the latest Ken Burns documentary, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” Millions of Americans watched the latest compelling Burns production, which masterfully interspersed old film footage with the actual words of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, spoken, in character, by Edward Herrmann, Meryl Streep, and other outstanding actors. It was great entertainment. But when it came to the topic of FDR’s response to the Nazi persecution of Europe’s Jews, “The Roosevelts” was fatally flawed. (more…)

Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows

New York Times, By Jim Yardley, Sept 23, 2014

SARCELLES, France — From the immigrant enclaves of the Parisian suburbs to the drizzly bureaucratic city of Brussels to the industrial heartland of Germany, Europe’s old demon returned this summer. “Death to the Jews!” shouted protesters at pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France. “Gas the Jews!” yelled marchers at a similar protest in Germany.

The ugly threats were surpassed by uglier violence. Four people were fatally shot in May at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. A Jewish-owned pharmacy in this Paris suburb was destroyed in July by youths protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. A synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, was attacked with firebombs. A Swedish Jew was beaten with iron pipes. The list goes on. (more…)

This Day in Jewish History / Kalisz Statute gives Polish Jews landmark civil rights protections

Haaretz, By David B. Green, September 8, 2014

Charter issued in 1264 has been described as one of the first attempts at delineating ‘human rights’ in the modern sense of the phrase.

Great Synagogue in Kalisz known as Wielka Synagoga, 1914Photo by Wikimedia Commons

On September 8, 1264, Boleslau the Pious, duke of Greater Poland, issued the General Charter of Jewish Liberties. Better known as the Kalisz Statute, the charter contained a set of 36 conditions mandating the rights and privileges of the Jewish community of Poland.

Boleslau (born about 1224, died 1279), was the son of Wladyslaw Odonic, who, together with his brother Przmesyl, gradually reconquered the lands lost by their father, and between 1257 and 1273 was the duke of Greater Poland and Poznan. During his reign, parts of Poland were invaded – and despoiled – by the Mongols. The duke invited Jews and others from Germany to Poland to help rebuild it. His charter can be seen as part of an effort to make the Jews feel welcome and secure, at a time when such forces as the church were looking to limit their ability to integrate into society.

Nonetheless, the Kalisz Statute was far-reaching in the guarantees it offered the Jews, and has even been described as one of the first attempts at delineating “human rights” in the modern sense of the phrase.

Although based on similar charters that had been issued in the recent past in Austria (1244) and Bohemia (1254), the Kalisz Statute was the most far-reaching. Its 36 points, presented in Latin, guaranteed Jews the right to govern their own internal affairs, and to adjudicate matters in Jewish courts, except in cases that involved Christians and Jews, which were to be heard in a royal tribunal rather than an ecclesiastical court. Someone who murdered a Jew would be subject to “the proper sentence,” plus confiscation of all his property, and “wherever a Jew shall pass through our territory, no one shall offer any hindrance to him or molest or trouble him.”

Not only that, but Christians were forbidden from vandalizing synagogues or Jewish cemeteries, and faced punishment if they did. And if a Jew were to cry out for help in the night, and his Christian neighbors failed to come to his aid, “or heed the cry, every neighboring Christian shall be responsible to pay thirty shillings.”

‘Refrain from the blood’

Other clauses dealt with the conditions under which Jews could make loans, and the measures they could take when a loan went unredeemed. Another forbade Christians, “According to the ordinances of the pope, in the name of our Holy Father,” from accusing Jews of killing Christian children for their blood, “since according to the precept of their law, all Jews refrain from any blood.” Anybody who did wish to make such an accusation was obligated to produce three Christian witnesses and three Jewish witnesses to the crime for it to be proven.

The terms of the Kalisz Statute were confirmed by subsequent Polish kings into the 16th century, and served as a basis for Jewish privileges in Poland and Lithuania until the end of the 18th century. They also led to backlash by church officials, who in various periods and towns tried to impose different restrictions – e.g., segregated housing, wearing of identifying clothing or symbols, prohibition on the holding of public office – but generally with limited success.

In the 1920s, the artist Arthur Szyk, a proud Polish Jew, created a series of illuminated miniature paintings depicting Jewish life in Poland, accompanied by the text of the Kalisz Statute, in seven languages. Today, the originals of the miniatures are in the collection of the Jewish Museum, New York.

Child Holocaust survivors. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Post, By Dr. Efraim Zuroff, September 6, 2014

Child Holocaust survivors. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The good news since the end of World War II is that, so far, the Holocaust has not been repeated, although unfortunately many other terrible events have occurred.

This week we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the beginning of World War II, the most lethal war in human history. Approximately 50 million people lost their lives in World War II – the majority of them were not combatants, but rather innocent civilians.

The conflict included the Holocaust, the worst case of genocide in the annals of mankind, and the tragedy has become a symbol of “man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.”

The war is often perceived as a struggle between the epitome of evil and those who fought the immoral monsters of the Third Reich and their Japanese and Italian allies to save democracy. In reality, the historical situation was more complicated. The German regime was defeated by a coalition of genuine democracies and the totalitarian Soviet Union. The threat to the future of Europe and Western civilization justified cooperation with Stalin, despite his terrible crimes and abuse of human rights.

Revelations of the true scope of Nazi crimes and the Holocaust in particular fed a determination in the US and its Western European allies to ensure that such atrocities would not be repeated. To that end, the United Nations was created, the Nuremberg Trials were conducted and the Genocide Convention created.

A slogan which reflected that determination – repeated ad nauseam ever since – was “Never Again.” The meaning of the slogan obviously depended on who used it, but it is generally assumed to mean that, in the future, no other group should suffer the fate of European Jewry under Nazi rule.

The good news since the end of World War II is that, so far, the Holocaust has not been repeated, although unfortunately many other terrible events have occurred.

Some of them are more or less similar to the Holocaust, although none of them actually replicate the original sin of decimating European Jewry during the Shoah. Biafra, Cambodia and more recent cases like Rwanda and Darfur, to name just a few, evoke memories of the Holocaust, and demonstrate the Western world’s failure to live up to the noble intentions embodied in the slogan “Never Again.”

A case could be made that part of the failure stems from insufficient efforts to bring those guilty of the earlier crimes to justice. In fact, only a small percentage of people who committed Holocaust crimes were ever investigated, let alone prosecuted and punished. The same applies to the perpetrators of crimes in succeeding tragedies. Had it been otherwise, perhaps subsequent atrocities could have been avoided, or at least confined to a smaller scale. We will never know for sure, but it is absolutely clear to me that the deterrent effects of properly administered justice must be strengthened through more effective implementation.

In recent years, the subject has gained ever greater exposure. There has been an enormous upsurge in Holocaust- related activities, as more people study the Holocaust at different educational levels, and many countries made Holocaust study a required part of the school curriculum.

Two other innovations contributed to Holocaust awareness: the 2005 UN resolution to designate January 27 as an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, and the establishment of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to promote Holocaust education.

The delegitimization of Holocaust denial in mainstream Western society has been important. Progress in this direction is based on revelations and documentary proof of Holocaust crimes, thanks to decades of research by dedicated historians, investigators and archivists who gathered information and made it available to the wider public in museums, on the Internet, and in an enormous number of books, movies, articles and plays devoted to the subject.

In short, the fact that more people are currently being educated about the Holocaust than ever before suggests that the likelihood of genocide and anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice would be lower than ever.

Sadly, this is definitely not the case. As recent events in Europe and elsewhere have show, overt anti-Semitism is on the rise. It takes more violent forms and comes with lethal threats.

When demonstrators yell “Jews to the gas,” they obviously are aware of what happened during the Holocaust, but draw none of the lessons we expected to follow exposure to that tragic reality. In that respect, Holocaust consciousness simply boomeranged, to the detriment of those it was supposed to protect.

Many of the demonstrators calling for Jewish blood are Muslims who come from a sociopolitical milieu replete with Holocaust denial of the worst kind. Propaganda for this hostility to Jews is sponsored by governments and preached by religious leaders.

So when we mark the anniversary of World War II and contemplate where we stand 75 years later, it is painfully obvious that “Never Again” is at risk of becoming a hollow slogan. Unless some way is found to communicate the appropriate lessons of the Holocaust to European Muslims and, hopefully, even to the predominantly Muslim world, we may again face a tragedy of the type the world swore in 1945 to do everything possible to prevent.

The author is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel Office. His most recent book, Operation Last Chance; One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice, deals extensively with the ongoing failure of the Baltic countries, and especially Lithuania, to bring to justice un-prosecuted local Nazi war criminals and honestly deal with the complicity of their nationals in Holocaust crimes.

Monument Seeks to End Silence on Killings of the Disabled by the Nazis

New York Times, By MELISSA EDDY, SEPT. 2, 2014

BERLIN — The first to be singled out for systematic murder by the Nazis were the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. By the end of World War II, an estimated 300,000 of them had been gassed or starved, their fates hidden by phony death certificates and then largely overlooked among the many atrocities that were to be perpetrated in Nazi Germany in the years to follow.

Now, they are among the last to have their suffering publicly acknowledged. On Tuesday, the victims of the direct medical killings by the Nazis were given their own memorial in the heart of Berlin.

A 79-foot-long wall of blue tinted glass now stands at Tiergartenstrasse 4, the site where dozens of doctors plotted and carried out the killings of patients arranged through medical channels under a program known as “operation T4.” Before the program was halted in 1941, some 70,000 people had been killed in the first gas chambers at six sites across Germany. The Nazis’ early success paved the way for mass slaughter that would later be carried out on an even larger scale against Jews, Roma and others in the death camps.

In a country where commemoration of past crimes holds such a prominent place in the national debate that it can seem to border on obsession, some see adding a fourth major memorial to Holocaust victims in Berlin — there is already a monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, and in the city’s Central Park, the Tiergarten, one honors the Sinti and Roma and a second pays tribute to deported gays — as excessive.

But for those families whose relatives were singled out for death because doctors said they could not contribute to the Nazi war machine, the newest monument rights two wrongs: the crimes committed against the ill and defenseless, and the long postwar silence about their slaughter. Few of the doctors involved in the operation were convicted, and families have never been eligible for any form of postwar compensation.

For years, the site at Tiergartenstrasse 4 was a bus stop, with only a plaque testifying to the suffering plotted there.

“We wanted this site to be more visible to the public,” said Sigrid Falkenstein, who helped mount a crusade to create a memorial. Now, the blue glass wall jutting out from a grassy bank beside the city’s landmark yellow philharmonic orchestra hall is visible from the sidewalk and the park across the street.

When Ms. Falkenstein first learned in 2003 that an aunt who she had been told had simply died young was in fact among the Nazis’ first victims, she took up the cause to memorialize the victims and inform the public of their suffering.

After countless letters, extensive lobbying and meetings with victims’ families and other groups, the German Parliament voted in November 2011 to erect the memorial at the location where the villa that was the birthplace of the program of direct medical killings once stood.

“Every human life is worth living: That is the message sent out from this site,” Monika Grütters, the German minister for culture, told a crowd gathered for the opening ceremony. “The ‘T4’ memorial confronts us today with the harrowing Nazi ideology of presuming life can be measured by ‘usefulness.’ ”

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Tens of thousands of other psychiatric patients — including children, as well as people with disabilities deemed severe enough to prevent them from contributing to the work force — were killed through 1945 by starvation or drug overdose. Their families were issued death certificates with the cause of death falsified.

The memorial’s long stone informational tablet includes portraits of 10 victims, among them Ms. Falkenstein’s aunt, Anna Lehnkering.

A quiet, helpful girl to her family, Anna was sent to a school for special needs and was trained for work. But in 1935, doctors said she had a hereditary disease, grounds for forced sterilization. One year later, Anna was sent to a psychiatric institution from which she never returned.

Only when her niece, Ms. Falkenstein, found her name on a list on the Internet and began researching her history did her fate as a victim of the Nazi doctors become known.

In addition to the glass wall, the memorial includes information about the so-called euthanasia program and a bench for reflection. Extra care was given to ensuring that the site was accessible to wheelchairs, and all text is boiled down from complex, academic German to very basic, simple words and sentence structure that people with learning disabilities can understand. There is also video for the deaf and audio for the blind.

“The stigmatization of people with psychological illnesses and intellectual disabilities did not end after 1945, which is certainly a reason why the public acknowledgment of these crimes has remained so difficult to this day,” said Gerrit Hohendorf, a historian at the Technical University of Munich involved in research for the memorial. “We have sought to counter this discrimination by making the memorial fully handicap-accessible.”

Hours after the construction barrier had been removed on Monday, the first tourists and passers-by stopped to read some of the tragic stories. But not all thought it was effective.

“I am skeptical whether this is really a good idea, or just instrumentalizes the crimes of World War II in a suffering of yet another group,” said a retired history teacher who would identify herself only by her first name, Marianne. “In the last decade we have seen so many memorials spring up across the city, but I am not sure they are able to communicate the information to those who have no knowledge of what happened then.”

If the memorial spurs people to learn more about the Nazis’ medical killings, it is serving its purpose, Ms. Falkenstein said.

“Through this site, Anna and the other victims have been returned part of their dignity and identity,” she said. “And part of the second debt to the victims who were forgotten for so many years has also been resolved.”

This Day in Jewish History / Israel enacts Holocaust commemoration law

Haaretz, By David B. Green | Aug. 19, 2014

Halfway through WWII, the catastrophe to Judaism was clear and the need to commemorate it was also clear to one kibbutznik in Israel
Haaretz, By David B. Green | Aug. 19, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama visiting Yad Vashem, March 22, 2013. Photo by Emil Salman
On August 19, 1953, the Knesset passed the Yad Vashem Law, by which it established the Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority to oversee Holocaust commemoration in Israel.

The idea for a memorial in Israel to the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime was first raised officially in 1942, which was not only a half-dozen years before Israeli independence – but also a time when most of those victims were still alive.

The proposal came from Mordechai Shenhavi (1900-1983), a Russian-born founding member of Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek (although in 1942, he was living at Kibbutz Beit Alfa). He brought it up at a meeting of the board of the Jewish National Fund in September 1942.

Even at that early stage, almost two years before World War II was to end, Shenhavi saw a need to create an institution in Palestine that would, in his words, “perpetuate the memory of the century’s greatest catastrophe within the framework of our Zionist enterprise.” He also saw the institution he proposed as answering an important challenge facing the JNF, which he noted at the time, “needs a new cause that can turn into a pipeline for large sums,” as quoted by Tom Segev in his 1993 book “The Seventh Million.”

A monument and a name

The name “Yad Vashem” (“a monument and a name”) was taken from Isaiah 56:5, in which God makes a promise regarding “the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths … and hold fast by My covenant,” saying that “unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall not be cut off.”

Rather like eunuchs, who were denied the opportunity to bear children, the six million victims of the Holocaust were at risk of being “cut off” from Jewish history. In fact, since the beginning Yad Vashem has had as one of its goals trying to collect and make known the name of every Jew murdered by Hitler.

To date, it has reached some 4.3 million names, all of which are accessible via a database uploaded by Yad Vashem to the Internet.

Vast complex versus forest

According to Segev, the JNF did not respond with great enthusiasm to Shenhavi’s idea, which envisioned a vast complex, to be situated in the Upper Galilee, including a memorial forest, cemetery, research institute and museum, plus resort and sports facilities. Rather, it came up with a proposal of its own for a Jerusalem “Martyrs’ Forest,” with seedlings dedicated in the names of Holocaust victims, and “memorial huts” where survivors could contemplate those they were mourning.

Shenhavi succeeded in having the JNF limit itself to a forest, with no huts. He also came to a compromise with a proposed Shoah memorial in Paris, which agreed that the Israeli institution would be the exclusive repository of victims’ names.

By 1950, Shenhavi also came up with the idea that the young state would grant retroactive citizenship to all the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The Yad Vashem Law of August 19, 1953, does indeed have a clause that offers those “members of the Jewish people who perished in the days of the Disaster and the Resistance the commemorative citizenship of the State of Israel,” but this was never realized in a collective manner.

Yad Vashem opened to the public in 1957, on a section of Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl that was dubbed the Mount of Remembrance. From early on, it included a museum and a research institute, and over the years added a children’s memorial, a monument to Righteous Gentiles, an art museum and many other departments. In 2005, a completely new museum, designed by Israeli-American architect Moshe Safdie, opened to the public.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen