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Category : In the News

The Hero and the Nazi

New York Times Editorial Board, July 6, 2015

The lives of two old men from opposing sides in World War II intersected last week in a vivid reminder of how the horrendous events of the Holocaust are fading inevitably into history.

Laudatory obituaries marked the death of Nicholas Winton, a modest 106-year-old English pacifist who remained quiet for a half-century about his efforts to help 669 children escape the Nazi death machinery in Czechoslovakia. In acid contrast, at one of the last of Germany’s war-crime trials, Oskar Gröning, a 94-year-old former SS soldier working at Auschwitz, admitted his “moral guilt” as an office functionary in the murder of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews.

But Mr. Gröning, frail yet quite aware, clung to a qualification that he could not apologize to the victims and survivors because of the enormity of the Holocaust crimes. “I can only ask forgiveness from the Lord,” he said. This added a note of puzzlement to the long search for justice by Auschwitz survivors who testified at the trial in grisly detail about the death camp, where more than a million innocent people were gassed and cremated.

As a new century goes forward, the lives of the two men can be read as invaluable moral lessons, addenda to the war’s ghastly place in history. Mr. Winton took extraordinary measures to save innocent lives. Mr. Gröning was tasked with the accounting of money stolen from Jews before they were murdered en masse.

This Day in Jewish History / Nations discuss Jewish refugees, get nowhere, but then they hadn’t planned to

Evian, venue of the Conference: ‘All the delegates had a nice time. They took pleasure cruises on the lake’ Photo by Wikimedia

Haaretz, by David Green, July 6, 2015

It was 1938, Germany had occupied Austria and the world realized the Jews had a problem. But there was so little intent to take action that the U.S. didn’t even send official reps to the Evian talks.

On July 6, 1938, representatives of 32 nations and some 60 organizations convened in Evian-les-bains, on the French shore of Lake Geneva, to discuss the growing problem of Jewish refugees from the German Reich.

On March 12, 1938, Nazi Germany had entered and occupied Austria, bringing under German control some 185,000 Jews overnight, in addition to the more than 500,000 Jews in Germany proper (of whom some 150,000 had fled by 1938). Less than two weeks later, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to invite the nations of the Western Europe and the Americas to a conference that would seek solutions to the problem of the stateless Jews.

This Day in Jewish History / Israel enacts a law welcoming all Jews

First Youth Aliya group walking to Ein Harod. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Haaretz, By David B. Green, July 5, 2015

The Law of Return assured citizenship to Jews emigrating to Israel based on recognition by the rabbinate.

On July 5, 1950, the Knesset enacted the Law of Return (“hok hashvut,” in Hebrew), the policy that has made it possible for some 2.7 million people to claim Israeli citizenship as Jews or descendants of Jews.

During the first two years of statehood, nearly 700,000 self-defined Jews immigrated to Israel – most of them Holocaust survivors, refugees from Arab countries or other Jews who had been denied entry during the years of British rule. The Law of Return was intended to codify the principle that any Jew was eligible to show up in the State of Israel and demand to be made a citizen.

By design, the law was narrow, with no desire on the part of the legislators to have it apply to other categories of individuals. As then-MK Ami Assaf said, in 1950, the Law of Return was meant to deal only with “the right of a Jew, as a Jew, to return to the Land of Israel in a special fashion.”

When Nicholas Winton, the British rescuer of Jews, was rebuffed by the U.S.

Nicholas Winton waiting to greet his surviving evacuees at Liverpool Street railway station in London, Sept. 4, 2009. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

JTA, By Rafael Medoff, July 2, 2015

WASHINGTON (JTA) — This week’s passing of Nicholas Winton, the London stockbroker who rescued more than 600 Jewish children from the Nazis on the eve of World War II, has drawn attention to the phenomenon of ordinary individuals who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Winton’s story is also a reminder of some often overlooked contrasts between British and American responses to the plight of Europe’s Jewish refugees.

The most widely known examples of such rescuers are Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman who sheltered Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest; Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who protected Jews by using them as employees in his factories; and Varian Fry, the American journalist who organized the smuggling of some 2,000 refugee artists and writers from Vichy France.

But in recent years, the stories of some previously unheralded individuals have come to light.

Nicholas Winton, who saved more than 650 Jewish children during Holocaust, dies at 106

Sir Nicholas Winton in Prague, Czech Republic Oct. 28, 2014. Photo by AP

Haaretz, By The Associated Press, July 2, 2015

“Is there anyone in our audience tonight who owes their life to Nicholas Winton?” asked the presenter of the popular BBC magazine program “That’s Life.”

Around the elderly man, sitting with his wife in the front row of the audience, more than 30 people got to their feet. The man stood to acknowledge them, wiping tears from his eyes.

It was 1988, some 50 years since young stockbroker Nicholas Winton found himself in Prague as the Nazis marched on Czechoslovakia and all around him Jewish parents desperately looked for a means of escape, if not for themselves then at least for their children.

Virtually single-handedly, Winton saved more than 650 of those children from almost certain death in the Holocaust. But he didn’t talk about it for decades, until his wife discovered documents in their attic that revealed the story and for the first time allowed the rescued children to know and thank their savior.

“There are all kinds of things you don’t talk about, even with your family,” Winton said later. “Everything that happened before the war actually didn’t feel important in the light of the war itself.”

Ex-Nazi on Trial in Germany Admits Complicity

Oskar Gröning, 94, acknowledged his complicity in the Holocaust for his work at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he collected money from arriving prisoners. Credit Ronny Hartmann/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New York Times, By VICTOR HOMOLA, JULY 1, 2015

LÜNEBURG, Germany — Stating that he could “only ask forgiveness from the Lord,” a 94-year-old former SS soldier who worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp acknowledged again on Wednesday his complicity in the Holocaust but disappointed survivors by failing to apologize for his deeds.

The former soldier, Oskar Gröning, a bookkeeper at Auschwitz-Birkenau whose main task was to strip Jewish inmates of their cash, made the plea in a statement read to a court in this town near Hamburg where he has stood trial since April.

The court, convened in a converted meeting hall to accommodate spectators and the news media, has charged Mr. Gröning with being an accessory to 300,000 counts of murder, almost all Hungarian Jews deported in the summer of 1944 to Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland. If convicted, he could face three to 15 years in prison.

Scores of people showed up at Wednesday’s hearing in anticipation of Mr. Gröning’s statement, which he said was inspired by the impassioned testimony of Holocaust survivors and the relatives of victims who have testified since the trial opened on April 21.

At that opening session, Mr. Gröning riveted the court with an hourlong account of his life, focusing particularly on his service at Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1942 to the fall of 1944. He acknowledged his “moral guilt” and complicity, but said that it was up to the court to judge his guilt before the law.

Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust, Dies at 106

A family picture of Nicholas Winton with one of the hundreds of Jewish children whose lives he saved during World War II. Credit Press Association, via Associated Press

New York Times, By ROBERT D. McFADDEN, JULY 1, 2015

Nicholas Winton, a Briton who said nothing for a half-century about his role in organizing the escape of 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, a righteous deed like those of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, died on Wednesday in Maidenhead, England. He was 106.

The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which Mr. Winton was a former president, announced his death on its website. He lived in Maidenhead, west of London.

It was only after Mr. Winton’s wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home in 1988 — a dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust — that he spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination.

For all his ensuing honors and accolades in books and films, Mr. Winton was a reluctant hero, often compared to Schindler, the ethnic German who saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and to Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman and diplomat who used illegal passports and legation hideaways to save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

How One of the World’s Leading Geneticists Recovered His Family’s Stolen Legacy

Mayor Rolf-Georg Kohler with Michael Hayden at a ceremony marking the return of the Hayden family objects. (Photo: Hayden Family)

Tablet Magazine, By Anna Silman

Four years ago, world-renowned geneticist Michael Hayden sat in the Göttingen city museum opposite its director, Dr. Ernst Böhme, having traveled from his home in Vancouver to his father’s German birthplace in search of objects belonging to his grandparents Max Raphael and Gertrud Hahn. While much of Max and Gertrud’s famous silver Judaica collection had been lost forever, provenance research showed that Hayden’s grandfather had sold a number of personal items to the local city museum in 1938, amid the so-called aryanization process that forced Jews to transfer their property into non-Jewish hands before they were deported and murdered.

The mood in the room was tense. Böhme told Hayden that while he wished to start returning his family’s objects, unfortunately he didn’t know where they were. Hayden was irked by the curator’s intimation that the museum had purchased the items for a fair price. In response to a lengthy list of objects that the museum was known to have acquired, Böhme showed Hayden two chairs. “I was so moved I had to go to the washroom, because I was seeing for the first time a direct link to my grandparents,” Hayden told me later. But shortly after the breakthrough came disappointment—they weren’t his family’s chairs after all. Hayden was devastated. “I felt like I’d invested emotionally into something that wasn’t real,” he said. “I felt betrayed.”

Jewish students removed from classroom of Dutch royals in 1950s

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte looks at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims at the Hall of Names on December 8, 2013 during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem. Photo by AFP

Haaretz, By JTA | Jun. 29, 2015

Dutch royal house investigating documents that reveal Jewish students were removed from the classroom of Dutch princesses, just six years after the holocaust

The Dutch royal house said it would investigate claims that Jewish pupils were transferred in 1951 from their classroom because it was also the classroom of two princesses.

The statement on the matter was released on Saturday from a Royal House spokesperson following a report published in the Nieuw Israelitisch Weekblad, or NIW, a Dutch Jewish weekly, about the objections of parents of several Jews from the classroom of Princess Irene and Princess Margriet at the Nieuw Baarnsche School in Baarn, a town located five miles east of Amsterdam.

“The material published is too serious and the allegations too grave to provide a rapid response,” a Royal House spokesperson told the NRC Handelsblad daily on June 27, adding the Royal House would reply next week to queries on the subject.

This Day in Jewish History / The rabbi who saved the Dachau survivors passes away

A replica of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp gate, with the writing “Arbeit macht frei” (Work Sets you Free), April 2015. Photo by AP

Haaretz, June 28, 2015

On June 28, 2007, Abraham J. Klausner, the rabbi who in the days and years following the liberation of Dachau did so much to assist the survivors there and in other concentration camps in the U.S.-occupied sector of Germany, died at 92. Rabbi Klausner was resourceful and persuasive. Mainly, though, he was someone confronted with a situation that so cried out for action, he felt he had no choice but to take on the bureaucracy of the world’s greatest military power to try and ease conditions among those who had been liberated in name only.

Abraham Klausner was born on April 27, 1915, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the five children of Joseph Klausner and the former Tillie Binstalk. Both of his parents were Jewish immigrants from Central Europe: Joseph – the owner of a dry-goods store – was born in Hungary; Tillie was born in Austria.

Abraham grew up in Denver and attended the University of Denver, graduating in 1938. He followed that with training as a Reform rabbi, at the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. After ordination, in 1943, he worked briefly at a synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, before joining the U.S. Army as a chaplain.