Is Auschwitz ready for a peace center? A Vermont woman thinks so

By Jon Kalish

The main gate of the former Auschwitz extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, with the famous sign reading “Works sets you free.” (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A Vermont educator whose grandparents perished in Auschwitz is working to create a humanitarian institute next to the infamous concentration camp, and some Jewish observers aren’t happy.

Nina Meyerhof, 75, sees what she is calling the “City of Hope” as a counterbalance to the grim experience of visiting the Nazi concentration camp, which includes one of the most visited museums in Europe.

“You can imagine that walking through that horror show, where you’re going through gas chambers, etc., and then coming to a place that’s really calm and beautiful and a little cafe and being able to sit and think about your experience,” Meyerhof said. “After you’ve had that experience, you don’t know what to do with it. Well, what we’re saying is you can transform that experience and carry it forward and make a difference in life.”

Meyerhof hopes to establish the City of Hope in 11 former Nazi barracks that were used by the Polish military after World War II. A newly formed nonprofit, the One Humanity Institute, would provide space there for education, research, conferences, NGO offices, a museum, a villa, a garden and a restaurant.

According to the institute’s website, the Auschwitz center will “aim to translate, in formal and non-formal environments, the values of understanding, freedom, equal dignity, justice, equity, harmony, compassion and forgiveness into knowledge, skills, actions, and projects for communities across the world.”

Asked if she thought Holocaust scholars and Jewish organizations might object to her plans, Meyerhof replied, “In no way do we want to take away from the experience of what people learn and viscerally experience when they go there.”

But Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office and the organization’s point man on Eastern Europe affairs, called the proposed City of Hope “a terrible idea, absolutely terrible.”

“I can appreciate her intentions, but this is really misconceived,” Zuroff told JTA. “You don’t want to soften the blow [of the experience of visiting the concentration camp]. People should leave Auschwitz very disturbed. Auschwitz stands alone, and that’s exactly as it should be.”

Also questioning the project is Michael Berenbaum, who served as the project director during the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and played a key role in the establishment of Steven Spielberg’s oral history project on the Shoah. Now a consultant on the creation of museums and memorials around the world, Berenbaum said the City of Hope is not the best use of the former SS barracks.

“Auschwitz is a paradox. Auschwitz is the single most sacred anti-sacred site in the world. It is so anti-sacred that it has become sacred,” Berenbaum said.  I have a problem using it for anything other than telling the story of the crime [committed at the concentration camp].

“One always has to ask in such a situation, ‘Is this the most worthy use of so an important a site?’ The staff who were part of this scheme of massive murder — where they were housed probably should be used as part of the site to tell the story of the men and the women who lived in these barracks.’”

Jewish scholars and activists have fought in the past against what they saw as misuses of Auschwitz and its environs, especially attempts to universalize or “de-Judaize” a site where, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 960,000 Jews were killed, along with approximately 125,000 non-Jewish Poles, Roma and members of other nationalities.

In 1984, a Carmelite convent was established on the grounds of Auschwitz; it was closed by Pope John Paul in 1993 after years of protests. Activists have also asked for the removal of a Catholic church built in the 1980s at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp.

Zuroff said locating the One Humanity Institute within the Nazi barracks amounted to “replacing reality with fantasy” and dismissed Meyerhof’s plans to establish a research center dedicated to world peace.

“That research is already being done all over the world,” he said.

The 11 buildings planned for the humanitarian institute are two- and three-story structures adjacent to the entrance of the concentration camp. Meyerhof said the Polish military still has a claim to the buildings.

Meyerhof said she’s been to war zones around the globe, but did not visit Auschwitz until 2014. Her grandparents and nearly 20 other relatives were killed there.

“I had no intention of getting involved there. None whatsoever,” said Meyerhof, who ran school programs and a summer camp in Vermont, and founded Children of the Earth, an organization that encourages spirituality and activism.

Since then she said she’s made 10 trips to Oswiecim, the town in Poland on whose outskirts the Nazi death camp is located.

Meyerhof, a descendant of German Jews, said members of her family were deported from Berlin to Auschwitz. Her mother, who told Meyerhof that her grandmother was gassed on the day Nina was born, once remarked that “every person who ever gave her a piece of candy was taken away.”

Meyerhof lived in Israel for a year and said she identifies with Jewish ethnicity more than the Jewish religion.

“I don’t have a deep identification as a suffering Jew,” she added.

Meyerhof and her partner, the Slovenian theologist Domen Kocevar, have met with both the mayor of Oswiecim and the governor of its province. According to Meyerhof and Kocevar, the governor has discussed the City of Hope project with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, an Oswiecim native.

In an email sent Sunday, Meyerhof wrote that she was hoping to meet directly with Poland’s president or prime minister this week before returning to Vermont.

“We’re doing a lot of relationship building,” Meyerhof said of the several trips she and Kocevar have made to Oswiecim. “Part of our design is that financially the town would benefit from our work, that there would be a percentage [of proceeds] that would go to them, there’d be jobs, there’d be taxes.”

The project’s website, which does not contain a single reference to Jews, features videos of diplomats and celebrities expressing their support for the City of Hope, including the violinist Scarlet Rivera and the primatologist Jane Goodall.

“There is no more fitting place for creating a center … where people can be inspired with a vision of a world where we live together with respect for each other,” Goodall said in a video urging support for the One Humanity Institute.

Meyerhof is partnering with Robert Smith, a former Wall Street trader who now runs a network of wealthy families and institutional investors committed to social change. Smith and Meyerhof met in February at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Bogota, Colombia.

“She is one of the most tenacious individuals I’ve ever met,” Smith said. “I could see that there was a chance that she could pull this off.”

Smith said he intends to raise $3 million as seed money for the City of Hope from philanthropists affiliated with Investment Community Visibility, his company. The total cost of building the City of Hope is pegged at $250 million.

“My goal with this is that there be light that comes into this place of darkness, and then that light is carried out to other people,” said Smith, who raises funds for the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, a nongovernmental organization based in Rome.

Meyerhof said the proposal to build her City of Hope at Auschwitz could be approved next year and that programs could begin in 2019.

After visiting the One Humanity Institute’s newly launched website, Zuroff said the money needed to build the proposed City of Hope would be better spent on the physical preservation of the existing portion of the former concentration camp, now maintained as a historic site, so that it doesn’t physically disintegrate.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/12/04/news-opinion/world/is-auschwitz-ready-for-a-peace-center-a-vermont-woman-thinks-so

Was Nazi Germany Made in America?

A new history argues convincingly that Hitler’s policies were inspired by institutionalized racism and common-law pragmatism in the United States

On July 26, 1935, about a thousand anti-Nazi demonstrators attacked the SS Bremen, a sleek, state-of-the-art German ocean liner that had docked in New York. The protesters succeeded in tearing the swastika flag off the ship and throwing it into the Hudson River. It was the climax to a long, hot New York summer of street fighting between pro-Nazis and anti-Nazis.

Five of the rioters in the Bremen incident were arrested, but when they appeared before Judge Louis Brodsky in September of 1935 something remarkable happened: Brodsky dismissed all charges, arguing that the swastika was “a black flag of piracy” that deserved to be destroyed, the emblem of “a revolt against civilization … an atavistic throwback to pre-medieval, if not barbaric, social and political conditions.”

The law behind Brodsky’s brave proclamation was questionable, and it wasn’t long before FDR’s Justice Department apologized to Germany for the judge’s decision. Hitler praised the Roosevelt administration for disavowing Brodsky’s ruling. But the Jewish Brodsky’s acquittal of the anti-Nazi vandals still became a cause celèbre for Hitler’s party. The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which imposed harsh restrictions on German Jews, were, so the Nazis claimed, a “reply” to Brodsky’s “insult.”

James Q. Whitman dedicates his new book Hitler’s American Model “to the ghost of Louis B. Brodsky.” But Whitman disagrees with Brodsky’s claim that the Nazism of the mid-1930s was a throwback to the Middle Ages. Whitman shows that the Nuremberg Laws, instead of being a barbarous anomaly, were in part modeled on then-current American race law. The Nazi regime saw itself at the cutting edge of racial legislation, and America was their inspiration. “Nazi lawyers regarded America, not without reason, as the innovative world leader in the creation of racist law,” Whitman remarks. In the 1930s, the American South and Nazi Germany were the world’s most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.

Scholars have long known that the American eugenics movement inspired the Nazis; now Whitman adds the influence of America’s immigration policy and its laws about race. Today, Whitman’s idea that Nazism looked to America for inspiration is liable to throw us into a moral panic. But there’s another side to the story, and in the Trump era, especially, we can benefit from taking a hard look at it. Our president was elected in part because he capitalized on an America-first nationalism that hunts ruthlessly for external and internal enemies. In this view, rootless cosmopolitans, immigrants, and the lawless inner cities constantly threaten the real America.

Historians have downplayed the connection between Nazi race law and America because America was mainly interested in denying full citizenship rights to blacks rather than Jews. But Whitman’s adroit scholarly detective work has proved that in the mid-’30s Nazi jurists and politicians turned again and again to the way the United States had deprived African-Americans of the right to vote and to marry whites. They were fascinated by the way the United States had turned millions of people into second-class citizens.

Strange as it may seem to us, the Nazis saw America as a beacon for the white race, a Nordic racial empire that had conquered a vast amount of Lebensraum. One German scholar, Wahrhold Drascher, in his book The Supremacy of the White Race (1936), saw the founding of America as a “fateful turning point” in the rise of the Aryans. Without America, Drascher wrote, “a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged.” Rasse and Raum—race and living space—were for Nazis the keywords behind America’s triumph in the world, according to historian Detlef Junker. Hitler admired the American commitment to racial purity, praising the anti-Indian campaigns that had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand.”

In the 1930s the American South and Nazi Germany were the world’s most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.

Hitler was not wrong to look to America for innovations in racism. “Early 20th-century America was the global leader in race law,” Whitman writes, more so even than South Africa. Spain’s New World Empire had pioneered laws tying citizenship to blood, but the United States developed racial legislation far more advanced than that of the Spaniards. For nearly a century African-American slavery was a monumental stain on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and its claim that “all men are created equal.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that “any alien, being a free white person” could become an American—the Nazis noted with approval that this was an unusual case of racial restriction on citizenship. California barred Chinese immigration in the 1870s; the whole country followed suit in 1882.

World War I gave an added impetus to the focus of racialist doctrines on immigration and immigrants. The Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 banned Asian immigrants along with homosexuals, anarchists, and “idiots.” And the Quota Law of 1921 favored Northern European immigrants over Italians and Jews, who were mostly barred from immigrating. Hitler praised American immigration restrictions in Mein Kampf: The future German dictator lamented the fact that being born in a country made one a citizen, so that “a Negro who previously lived in the German protectorates and now resides in Germany can thus beget a ‘German citizen.’ ” Hitler added that “there is currently one state in which one can observe at least weak beginnings of a better conception … the American Union,” which “simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” America, Hitler concluded, because of its race-based laws, had a more truly völkisch idea of the state than Germany did.

In the area of racial restrictions on marriage, America stood alone as a pioneer. The American idea that racially mixed marriage is a crime had a strong impact on the Nuremberg Laws. In the 1930s nearly 30 American states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, in some cases barring Asians as well as African-Americans from marrying whites. The Nazis eagerly copied American laws against miscegenation. The Nuremberg Laws, following the American model, outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

In one respect American race law proved too harsh for the Nazis. In America, the “one drop” rule reigned: Often, you were counted as black if you had as little as one-sixteenth Negro blood. But the Nazi hardliners’ proposal to define Germans with one Jewish grandparent as Jews did not get approved at Nuremberg. Instead, quarter- and even half-Jews were treated with relative leniency. Mischlinge, half Jews, could be counted as Aryans, unless they were religiously observant or married to a Jew.

The American treatment of voting rights was also crucial to the Nazi platform. Hitler aimed to turn German Jews into resident noncitizens who would lack the vote as well as other rights. In Mein Kampf he proposed a tripartite division between Staatsbürger (citizens), Staatsangehörige (nationals) and Ausländer (foreigners). The United States already had such a division when it came to certain ethnic groups, notably African-Americans, most of whom could not vote in the South. White Southerners saw blacks the way Nazis saw Jews, as, in Whitman’s words, an “ ‘alien race’ of invaders that threatened to get ‘the upper hand.’ ” The Nazi jurist Heinrich Krieger in a 1934 article was particularly excited that the U.S. deprived not just blacks but also Chinese of voting rights. Detlef Sahm, another legal scholar, applauded the denial of the vote to American Indians, and noted that under U.S. law Filipinos, like the Chinese, were noncitizen nationals.

‘How Race Questions Arise.’ A map of the 48 states showing ‘Statutory Restrictions on Negro Rights,’ which appeared in the Nazi propaganda magazine Neues Volk in 1936. (Courtesy of University of Michigan Library, appearing in James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model

The Nazis were not just enthusiastic about the content of American race law, they also embraced its common-law basis. Erich Kaufmann, a right-wing German Jewish professor of law who survived the war years in hiding, praised in 1908 the way that American legal decisions, with their “wealth of life and immediacy,” as opposed to the rigid civil-law code that guided German jurisprudence, responded to “the living legal intuitions of the American people.” Thirty years later Kaufmann’s hint would be picked up by Nazis who saw common law, which embodies the powerful intuitions of the people, as a way to legislate racial prejudices. True, they conceded, there was no firm biological definition of Jewishness, but the people’s anti-Semitic instincts were nevertheless correct. Roland Freisler, one of the most radical and pitiless of Nazi jurists, wrote:

I believe that every judge would reckon the Jews among the coloreds, even though they look outwardly white. … Therefore I am of the opinion that we can proceed with the same primitivity that is used by these American states. A state even simply says: ‘colored people.’ Such a procedure would be crude, but it would suffice.

Freisler liked American common-law racism, with (in Whitman’s words) “its easygoing, open-ended, know-it-when-I-see-it way with the law.” Scientific definitions of race were not needed; popular bias was more than enough to go on. The American experience spoke volumes: Jim Crow racism was legal realism, rooted in the feelings of the people.

Other Nazi jurists, like Bernhard Lösener, made the case against a common-law approach. They complained that individual judges could not be allowed to make judgments based on racial hunches when they had no scientific way of determining what was Jewish. “Vague sentiments of Jew hatred” were not sufficient, Lösener insisted, making the case that anti-Semitism needed a sound basis in racial “science.” Lösener stood for one side of Nazi ideology, the emphasis on the hard, scientific facts of race and peoplehood; the other side was the improvising of new rules to further German power. Improvisation won out: lack of clarity about who counted as Jewish allowed the Nazis during the war both to employ Mischlinge and to murder them if necessary.

The Nazis were aware that America was run on egalitarian, liberal principles. But, they pointed out, we made race-based exceptions to our ideal. America showed, in the words of law professor Herbert Kier, that “the elemental force of the necessity of segregating humans according to their racial descent makes itself felt even where a political ideology stands in the way.” Hitler celebrated America in Mein Kampf for its gospel of social mobility, on the grounds that Nazism was an equal opportunity project for Aryans. Until the very late ’30s, FDR’s New Deal was popular among Nazis: The president, they said, had assumed dictatorial powers in order to further the prospects of all white Americans, while leaving segregation in place in the South.

In his concluding pages, Whitman suggests that the Nazis’ approval of American legal culture is worth pondering. The American taste for common law, usually seen as a sign of our pragmatic, flexible approach to legal decision-making, can also enshrine popular prejudices. Popular moods like the urge to get tough on crime, or on illegal immigrants, can carry the seeds of authoritarian fanaticism.

Source: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/227396/was-nazi-germany-made-in-america

The Best WWII Children’s Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

Amsterdam’s Dutch Resistance Museum Junior offers spectacular interactive education

My family spent Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. We stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood, two blocks from Otto Frank’s old warehouse. Every night, we went to sleep to the sound of ringing church bells. Anne Frank used to listen to them, too. (On July 11, 1942, she wrote in her diary: “Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night.”) Of course we took the Anne Frank House tour. Of course it was powerful. I’d last visited in the early ’90s; since then the museum has been thoughtfully expandedand renovated. My older daughter, Josie, 16, found the visit particularly potent, though she and I both made a quiet snorting noise when the tour concluded with a quote from bestselling young-adult novelist John Green.

To our surprise, however, a different museum wound up being even more powerful for both my daughters. The Verzetsmuseum, aka the Dutch Resistance Museum, has a large section aimed entirely at kids. If you’re visiting with your family, skip the main exhibit, dedicated to the Netherlands’ experience during the war, and go straight to Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, further back in the building. It is practically a Ph.D.-level course in effective museum design for kids—interactive without being infantilizing, engaging without being pandering, thoughtful about how young kids experience narrative, reflective about how much historical scariness young museumgoers can be expected to handle. Maxine, 13, was spellbound. As we left, after two hours that positively flew by, Josie gave it the highest rating an ironic hipster teen can give: “Mom. That museum was fire.”

You can get a sense of the space on the museum website. A large central area paneled with textured murals and filled with models of tree stumps, munitions crates, and suitcases (some of which actually open into plush upholstered chairs) introduces us to four kids: Eva, Jan, Nelly, and Henk. We see videos of each kid; a headset lets you hear them tell their own stories in the language of your choice. Eva is a Jewish girl whose family has fled Austria for (presumed) safety in Amsterdam. Jan is a minister’s son whose father preaches opposition to the Nazis. Nelly is the daughter of a small-town mayor in the southwest Netherlands, a fervent member of the Dutch Nazi party. Henk lives in Haarlem, loves his little toy soldiers, and sees war as a thrilling adventure—he’s giddily delighted every time the Germans open fire on British planes overhead because afterward he finds bits of shrapnel, bullets, and broken glass to add to his collection. (“I don’t think Henk is very smart,” Maxie confided.) Gradually, like the other children, Henk begins to understand the magnitude of war.

From the center room, you can follow each young narrator’s story through a warren of other little rooms—bedrooms, dining rooms, train cars—all filled with audio and video recordings, furniture, and screens you can touch to answer questions about what you’d do in each child’s situation. As you weave through each kid’s wartime story, examining their toys and hats and posters, watching clever bits of animation showing their day-to-day lives, you also move through four different experiences of resistance, oppression, and collaboration.

Eva, for example, tells us she lives around the corner from Anne Frank. She really likes Anne’s cat Moortje, but finds Anne (“a popular girl”) shallow and annoying. “She and her friends were always giggling about boys…I thought it was stupid,” she says dismissively. Both my daughters burst into shocked giggles at that; who’d ever expect to hear criticism of such an icon?

As the Nazi hold on the Netherlands tightens, we experience it through each kid’s lens. Eva is sad because isn’t allowed to go see Snow White; Jews can’t go to the movies anymore. Her beloved big brother Heinz draws her a picture of Snow White on the blackout paper covering the windows. Winter coats hang on hooks, each with a yellow star saying “Jood” stitched on it. There’s a café window with a small sign in the corner: “Verboden Voor Juden.” When the family has to go into hiding—Vati and Heinz in Soesdjik, Mutti and Eva in Amsterdam—we see a video of Eva’s hands making shadow animals on the ceiling, her idle fantasies of being able to ride a bike again (flowers bloom around the bike as she imagines it) and getting to dance like Shirley Temple, which she’s no longer allowed to do because she can’t make noise. “BORING!” the wall text huffs. We see sad-looking paintings by Heinz, poems, postcards. We hear bits of radio broadcasts. A righteous gentile hides Eva and her mom in a small space behind a false wall with a hatch next to the toilet—it’s even more stark-looking than the bookcase that swung out to reveal steps to the Franks’ Secret Annex.

Eventually, all four family members are captured and sent to Auschwitz. A video impressionistically shows us the cattle-car journey and Eva’s newly tattooed arm.

Among the four kids’ stories in the museum, Eva’s is the most tragic. Not everyone in her family survives. Nevertheless, her experience is presented in a way that’s manageable for children. I was endlessly admiring of this museum’s balancing act. Parents still may have to do some explaining, especially to younger kids (and I don’t think kids younger than 8 or 9 are emotionally ready for this experience at all), but the storytelling is developmentally appropriate for most kids older than 9. Regular readers know how critical I am of most Holocaust narratives for kids; this one really is spectacularly done.

At the end, you come out into a big open room—called Liberation—and are confronted with big photographic portraits of Eva, Jan, Nelly, and Henk as elderly folks. (Until the final room, I hadn’t been positive that the four were real people.) All had survived. I gasped, and tears came to my eyes. Something about suddenly seeing them as wrinkly old folks, with kind bubbe-and-zayde-like faces, when we’d only ever known them as children, felt at once jarring and consoling.

All four took different lessons from the war. An interactive display lets you watch snippets of interviews with them as adults on topics such as prejudice, dictatorship, the meaning of freedom. You can also write your own thoughts about war and intolerance on bits of paper all over the walls. (I took a picture of a carefully printed, blue-penciled note, in little-kid writing, the vowels dotted with circles. It read, “Hitler Is Gewoon Stom Dom”—“Hitler is just stupid” in Dutch. Beneath it was the word “Hitler” in a circle, crossed out, and a picture of a hand pointing thumbs-down. Take that, Hitler.

What I found most striking in that last room: Nelly never feels bad for her leadership in the Youth Storm movement or for her father’s role in the Dutch Nazi party. She sees herself as a victim, dwelling on being called “Nazi scum” by her classmates and being forced to flee to Germany with her family as the British and American armies approach the Netherlands. Eventually, she and her family are held accountable for their actions…but at no point does Nelly take responsibility. Even as an 86-year-old, she insists she had no idea what was happening to the Jews and doesn’t feel guilty about her family’s wartime activities. What did she learn from her experiences? “You shouldn’t tease others because they are different,” she says in an interview as a grownup. “I personally experienced what it is like to be different and I would not wish that on anyone else.” She sounds like today’s parade of racists and homophobes: “What about the prejudice I experience as a conservative? What about respecting my values?” I loved that the museum presented her perspective without comment or censure. It felt like a sophisticated, non-pandering choice that gave parents plenty of room for discussion with their kids.

The Dutch Resistance Museum proved a wonderful counterpoint to Anne Frank House. As Jews, we all know Anne’s saga. She’s one girl, but also larger than life. To pair her story with those of four other real people, unknowns, people who didn’t become fodder for John Green novels and Halloween costumes and Japanese mangamakes for a more layered, nuanced museum-going experience.

Source: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/250569/dutch-resistance-museum-junior

Commander of Auschwitz Concentration Camp Arrested in Germany

Richard Baer, last commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp, was arrested here Tuesday. He was a leader of Hitler’s SS, the Nazi “elite guard.”

Josef Schoenen, the 25-year-old youth who desecrated the Cologne synagogue last Christmas Eve, thereby touching off a spate of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world, was released by the Cologne police today, for lack of evidence in connection with charges that he again daubed swastikas last weekend on buildings in that city.

Schoenen, who last month finished serving a Jail sentence for the Christmas Eve incident, was re-arrested yesterday with another youth, Willi Nickel, for allegedly smearing swastikas and anti-Jewish inscriptions on buildings in a Cologne suburb. Nickel was also released by police today.

Source: https://www.jta.org/1960/12/21/archive/commander-of-auschwitz-concentration-camp-arrested-in-germany

Holocaust memorial in Athens with Elie Wiesel inscription is vandalized

This is not the first time the Holocaust Memorial in Athens has been vandalized. (Wikimedia Commons)

(JTA) — Vandals stripped away inscriptions on the Holocaust memorial in Athens written by Elie Wiesel.

The attack on the memorial, commemorating the more than 60,000 Greek Jews killed during World War II, took place on Saturday, according to the English-language Greek Reporter.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who would go on to become a renowned author and Nobel Prize winner, wrote the inscription especially for the engraved plaque. It was written in Greek, French and English, but only the English inscription remains.

“Elie Wiesel’s appeal to the passer-by to stand, to remember, to honor the victims of the Holocaust was turned into an act of vandalism, disrespect, insult,” said Minor Moisis, president of the Jewish community of Athens, according to the European Jewish Press. He said the memorial will remain open and accessible to the public

The memorial, which was designed by Greek American artist DeAnna Maganias, was erected in 2010. Located in a small park overlooking the Keramikos archaeological site, the memorial features pieces of a broken marble Magen David, each representing a lost Greek Jewish community. The names of the communities are engraved in the marble piece pointing in the direction where they once existed.

About 5,000 Jews now live in Greece.

Saturday’s vandalism is not the first time that the memorial has been desecrated. In 2014, threats against the Jewish community were spray-painted on the monument and several months later the logo of the ultranationalist group known as the Unaligned Meander Nationalists was spray-painted in blue on the memorial.

Source:  https://www.jta.org/2017/12/04/news-opinion/world/holocaust-memorial-in-athens-vandalized

Emanuele Artom: Hero of the Italian Resistance, Dedicated Jew, and Diarist

Born in Turin in 1915 to a prominent Jewish family, Emanuel Artom joined the anti-Mussolini partisans in 1943; a year later he was captured by the Nazis and tortured to death. He had been a promising scholar before the war, and had, among other things, authored a children’s book outlining Jewish history from biblical times to the present. While he is well known in Italy, he remains nearly unheard of elsewhere, perhaps because his remarkable diaries have remained untranslated. Siân Gibby writes:

Emanuele was the elder child of the mathematicians Emilio and Amalia Artom. Together with his brother, Ennio, he founded a Jewish culture group, which included Primo Levi and his sister Anna Maria. . . . He had learned Hebrew to read and discuss Talmud and Torah with his father. Levi’s biographer, Carole Angier, says that the Artoms were a devout family but that Emanuele didn’t develop his personal religious feeling until adulthood. . . .

[Artom possessed] a keen awareness and expressive ability that, had he survived, would surely have placed him squarely in Primo Levi’s company as one of the greatest Jewish chroniclers of the wartime experience. [His diaries] include his literary musings—on Dostoyevsky, 19th-century Italian poetry, and a French edition of A Thousand and One Nights. He records dreams, worries about his parents, meditates on Zionism, and references his engagement to a woman he shyly refers to as “M.” . . .

Eventually, along with all these ordinary experiences of being an extraordinary young man in wartime Italy, he begins to write about the darkening political scene and the Jews’ place in it.

Source: https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/2017/12/emanuele-artom-hero-of-the-italian-resistance-dedicated-jew-and-diarist/

History behind WWII’s great unsung female codebreaker is finally unravelled

Though her actions helped save countless Allied lives, it takes some digging to find a record of Elizebeth Smith Friedman

The Friedmans in their home library, 1957. (George C. Marshal Foundation)

Even as the United States fought the Axis Powers in Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II, a new threat emerged at home — this time from a Nazi spy ring operating out of South America.

The cell sought to conduct both political and military operations as they worked to sway the politically-neutral continent towards the Germans, while reporting on Allied ship movements, putting vessels at risk of destruction by German U-boats.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had no answer for the ring. But Elizebeth Smith Friedman did.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, the veteran codebreaker (whose Jewish-American husband, William Friedman, was himself a legendary name in intelligence history) had honed her skills battling Prohibition-era smugglers — who, it turned out, had used codes similar to those employed by the Nazi spies.

Friedman not only cracked the Nazi codes, she helped bring down the spy ring. In January 1944, Nazi isolation from South America was complete when Argentina broke off relations with the Axis.

Yet for decades, this story — and the woman behind it — were lost to history.

Now, a new book, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone, aims to correct this oversight.

It comes on the heels of the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” — about Friedman’s British codebreaking contemporary, Alan Turing — and this year’s film “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women in the space industry who were also ignored by history.

“You go back and look at public sources, and women are there,” Fagone said. “They’ve been there all along. They were omitted from the story when the story got told by men, sometimes even outright erased. Elizebeth and her WWII heroics were papered over by J. Edgar Hoover. All the while, Hoover claimed credit for what Elizebeth and her team were doing.”

Fagone discovered her story several years ago. He was researching the National Security Agency (NSA) while reporting on Edward Snowden, who leaked information from the agency in 2013.

The author began reading about William Friedman, whom he said “was considered the godfather of the NSA,” and was also renowned for breaking the Japanese WWII Purple code.

“I noticed his wife was also a codebreaker,” Fagone said. “I thought, ‘that’s interesting, husband and wife codebreakers.’ … I got curious and began to dig. It was this kind of incredible untold story, a woman at the heart of the American intelligence community, that began to unfold.”

She was born Elizebeth Smith to Quaker parents in Huntington, Indiana, in 1892. Her mother Sopha provided her unconventional first name.

She had an early interest in codes — including a belief that the works of Shakespeare contained secret messages. George Fabyan, a Gilded Age tycoon from Chicago, recruited her to try to find these messages — one of his many projects.

Smith also met a geneticist on Fabyan’s staff named William Friedman — a Russian immigrant born as Wolf Friedman, the son of a Talmudic scholar.

“William was interested in a homegrown version of Zionism,” Fagone said, although later in life he criticized the movement.

“As a young man growing up in Pittsburgh, he decided at an early age he was going to try to learn being a farmer. His high school friends believed Jewish youths needed to make themselves strong in the face of anti-Semitism and go back to the land. Ultimately, he decided to become a scholar of genetics instead,” said Fagone.

Friedman and Smith married in 1917. “It was not something that was really done in their worlds,” Fagone said. “She was a Quaker girl from the Midwest, Friedman was from a Jewish community in Pittsburgh.”

The Friedmans in their home library, 1957. (George C. Marshal Foundation)

Even as the United States fought the Axis Powers in Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II, a new threat emerged at home — this time from a Nazi spy ring operating out of South America.

The cell sought to conduct both political and military operations as they worked to sway the politically-neutral continent towards the Germans, while reporting on Allied ship movements, putting vessels at risk of destruction by German U-boats.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had no answer for the ring. But Elizebeth Smith Friedman did.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, the veteran codebreaker (whose Jewish-American husband, William Friedman, was himself a legendary name in intelligence history) had honed her skills battling Prohibition-era smugglers — who, it turned out, had used codes similar to those employed by the Nazi spies.

Friedman not only cracked the Nazi codes, she helped bring down the spy ring. In January 1944, Nazi isolation from South America was complete when Argentina broke off relations with the Axis.

Yet for decades, this story — and the woman behind it — were lost to history.

‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes’ by Jason Fagone.

It comes on the heels of the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” — about Friedman’s British codebreaking contemporary, Alan Turing — and this year’s film “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women in the space industry who were also ignored by history.

“You go back and look at public sources, and women are there,” Fagone said. “They’ve been there all along. They were omitted from the story when the story got told by men, sometimes even outright erased. Elizebeth and her WWII heroics were papered over by J. Edgar Hoover. All the while, Hoover claimed credit for what Elizebeth and her team were doing.”

Fagone discovered her story several years ago. He was researching the National Security Agency (NSA) while reporting on Edward Snowden, who leaked information from the agency in 2013.

The author began reading about William Friedman, whom he said “was considered the godfather of the NSA,” and was also renowned for breaking the Japanese WWII Purple code.

“I noticed his wife was also a codebreaker,” Fagone said. “I thought, ‘that’s interesting, husband and wife codebreakers.’ … I got curious and began to dig. It was this kind of incredible untold story, a woman at the heart of the American intelligence community, that began to unfold.”

Jason Fagone, author of ‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes.’ (Courtesy)

She was born Elizebeth Smith to Quaker parents in Huntington, Indiana, in 1892. Her mother Sopha provided her unconventional first name.

She had an early interest in codes — including a belief that the works of Shakespeare contained secret messages. George Fabyan, a Gilded Age tycoon from Chicago, recruited her to try to find these messages — one of his many projects.

Smith also met a geneticist on Fabyan’s staff named William Friedman — a Russian immigrant born as Wolf Friedman, the son of a Talmudic scholar.

“William was interested in a homegrown version of Zionism,” Fagone said, although later in life he criticized the movement.

“As a young man growing up in Pittsburgh, he decided at an early age he was going to try to learn being a farmer. His high school friends believed Jewish youths needed to make themselves strong in the face of anti-Semitism and go back to the land. Ultimately, he decided to become a scholar of genetics instead,” said Fagone.

Friedman and Smith married in 1917. “It was not something that was really done in their worlds,” Fagone said. “She was a Quaker girl from the Midwest, Friedman was from a Jewish community in Pittsburgh.”

But, he said, “Young people in love, as often happens, their love for each other was stronger than fears of what their families would think.”

They would have a lasting marriage, with two children. Codebreaking kept them close.

“They were two young people who wanted to accomplish very great things,” Fagone said. “They clicked through this very intense activity of codebreaking. They would be across the table from each other, for eight, 10, 12 hours a day, cranking through puzzles. They loved it.”

They became highly successful at it. “William Friedman, like Elizebeth Friedman, was one of the great codebreakers of all time, a genius at seeing patterns in what looked like noise,” said Fagone. “Along with Elizebeth, he was involved in some of the methods at the foundation of modern cryptology.”

When America entered WWI in 1917, “very quickly, because of the necessities of war, [Elizebeth Friedman] was transferred from the Shakespeare project to hunt and solve secret messages to Germany,” he said.

Her husband went to France in 1918 as a codebreaker for the American Expeditionary Force. Throughout his career, however, he faced anti-Semitism.

“He grew up hearing stories of anti-Jewish pogroms that had swept through the family’s ancient home in Russia,” Fagone said. “Those stories never left him. I think, all his career, he was aware of anti-Semitism in the US military. He was afraid it would harm his career and livelihood.

“The US military was thoroughly anti-Semitic, in a casual, everyday way. … People he worked with in the War Department believed in anti-Semitic frauds, gathering intelligence about what they called ‘the Jewish question’ on MID [Military Intelligence Division] index cards. One was called ‘Jews: Race.’ That was the professional environment of William Friedman,” said Fagone.

Meanwhile, Elizebeth Friedman would make history at “the only codebreaking unit in America ever to be run by a woman,” Fagone wrote.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department of Henry Morgenthau Jr., “she battled smugglers and professional gangsters, intercepting messages, literally reading the thoughts of the biggest gangsters of the day,” Fagone said. “She testified, sometimes at risk to her personal safety.”

The couple’s interwar achievements helped them accomplish great feats during WWII. William Friedman led the Army team that cracked the Japanese code Purple.

“Ultimately, they were able to intercept, break and read Japanese diplomatic messages all through the war,” Fagone said. “They read into the minds of top Japanese diplomats all over the world — and also the Nazi mind. Japanese diplomats were talking with their Nazi counterparts. William and his team read that, too. In an enormous way, they probably helped shorten the war.”

However, Friedman suffered a nervous breakdown and was honorably discharged.

“Later in life, when his depression became more acute, he talked about the toll that anti-Semitism was taking on him with a psychiatrist,” Fagone said.

And while he helped create what became the NSA in 1952, Cold War-era tensions arose between the Friedmans and the agency, boiling over in 1958, when agents removed many of the Friedmans’ personal papers from their Capitol Hill home.

While William Friedman’s wartime achievements are well-known, his wife’s are not. Of the 22 boxes of personal files Elizebeth Friedman left to the George C. Marshall Foundation library in Virginia, there was no documentation between 1939 and 1945.

It turned out that her records had been declassified in 2000. Locating them in the National Archives “was the part that took me the most time and research,” Fagone said.

It took two years, and “it was more dramatic and surprising than anything I had ever expected.”

Elizebeth Friedman had matched wits with Johannes Siegfried Becker — “the most prolific and effective Nazi spy in the Western Hemisphere during WWII,” Fagone wrote.

Becker’s spy network in South America collected intelligence that “would allow a U-boat to go after an Allied vessel,” Fagone said. “A Nazi spy in Buenos Aires or another port would note when an Allied ship would depart at a certain time. Berlin would dispatch a U-boat that would attempt to destroy it with a torpedo. … It was a death warrant. There were dozens, hundreds of people aboard an Allied vessel. It was important to be able to intercept, warn the captains.”

Other intelligence “gave Germany a picture of what goods were being transported to whom,” Fagone said.

“A lot of espionage was about commerce, raw materials, ores, food to feed the army. Various South American governments made deals with both sides to secure a line on imported ores, metals, supplies of food. It was useful to know if a ship full of Argentine beef was heading in a certain direction,” he said.

These messages were transmitted via clandestine radio networks.

“For anyone to find out what they were saying, they had to intercept the radio messages and break the codes,” Fagone said. “The FBI was totally unprepared. They had no codebreaking team.”

But the Coast Guard and Elizebeth Friedman were perfectly prepared. “Elizebeth had built an elite team of codebreakers within the Coast Guard,” Fagone said.

“The Nazi spies had very similar radio techniques, very similar codes, to the rum runners and drug smugglers in the 1920s, 1930s. It just shows how Elizebeth was ready, with that sort of skills, for a pivotal moment in the war. … She shifted her focus from fighting smugglers to tracking and hunting spies all through WWII,” he said.

Decades later, the NSA was skeptical of the threat from Nazi spies in South America.

“Did the Axis’ clandestine effort in the Western Hemisphere have any effect on the conduct of the war? Probably not,” David P. Mowry wrote in a since-declassified 1989 publication, “German Clandestine Activities in South America in World War II.”

“It appears that most of the intelligence passed to Germany was of little significance,” said the article. And “[The] answer to the question, ‘Did the US cryptanalytic effort against the Axis spies have any effect on the conduct of the war?’ is also, ‘Probably not.’”

However, Friedman and her team made an impressive 4,000 decryptions from 50 separate Nazi radio circuits.

Fagone said the decriptions managed “to create a detailed map of the Nazi spy network in South America … figure out who was talking to who and why, map connections with various South American governments to track finances down to the peso, learn code names and true identities of all agents” — all of which helped authorities “go in and disrupt, arrest and destroy spy networks, eliminate the Nazi espionage threat.”

She also assisted with high-profile domestic espionage cases. “Her role was omitted or erased when the FBI told the story,” Fagone said.

She and her Coast Guard team decrypted intelligence that aided Hoover’s 1941 investigation of the Duquesne spy ring — in which 33 men went to jail for a collective 300 years.

In 1944, she testified as an expert against Japanese spy Velvalee Dickinson, nicknamed the Doll Woman for writing letters purportedly about sales from her New York doll shop that actually described damage to Allied warships.

“The FBI did a lot of good work in WWII,” Fagone said, “in the Duquesne case, and a lot of good work with the Doll Woman. It’s just that, when [Hoover] told the story, the FBI did everything.”

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/history-behind-wwiis-great-unsung-female-codebreaker-is-finally-unravelled/

 

A naked game of tag was filmed at a Nazi gas chamber. Survivors’ groups demand to know who gave the OK.

A view of a gas chamber at the former Stutthof camp. (Christian Holmér/Flickr Commons)

(JTA) — Groups representing Holocaust survivors have asked Poland’s president to explain why artists were allowed to film a naked game of tag inside a gas chamber in the former Nazi death camp of Stutthof.

On Wednesday, the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and several other groups sent the request for clarification to President Andrzej Duda in connection with a video that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow displayed in 2015 without divulging any details on where it was filmed. The letter was sent after research revealed the location was Stutthof, near Gdansk, Poland.

The organizations that co-signed the letter demanded to know whether the artists did “obtain permission from the Stutthof administrators to make this video, what rules exist for proper conduct at the site, how these are enforced” and whether an investigation of the circumstances of the making of the video had been carried out, the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote in a statement about the letter.

Following protests by Jewish groups and community leaders, the Krakow museum pulled the exhibition but then reinstated it, defending it as falling under freedom of artistic expression.

The installation, called “Game of Tag,” also was displayed at an art museum in Estonia before being pulled following protests.

“It is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, said in 2015 about the exhibition. “They lied about it. It is just revolting and a total insult to the victims and anyone with any sense of morality or integrity.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/11/29/news-opinion/world/a-naked-game-of-tag-was-filmed-at-a-nazi-gas-chamber-survivors-groups-demand-to-know-who-gave-the-ok