2 Republican congressmen attended fundraiser with Holocaust denier

(JTA) — Two Republican congressmen who have been criticized for associating with a Holocaust denier attended a fundraiser with him.

The far-right activist Charles Johnson was invited to and attended the yacht fundraiser in Newport Beach, California, for Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on July 20, according to a report Thursday by the Mother Jones magazine. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California also attended.

Last October, news reports revealed that Rohrabacher had welcomed Johnson to a Capitol Hill meeting with Sen. Rand Paul. In response, the Anti-Defamation League urged Rohrabacher to “discontinue any association with Johnson and repudiate his views.”

Gaetz had also invited Johnson to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in January.

Gaetz was criticized for the invitation in light of Johnson’s assertions on Twitter in 2017 about Holocaust victims.

“I do not and never have believed the six million figure,” he wrote. “I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a ware [sic] crime. I agree … about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real.”

Referring to Johnson’s presence at the July 20 event, Jason Pitkin, Rohrabacher’s campaign finance director, told Mother Jones: “I don’t remember who invited him there.” Asked whether Johnson had come at the invitation of Gaetz, Kip Talley, the chief of staff for Gaetz’s re-election campaign, replied in an email, “It was a private event and you’re welcome to check the FEC reports to see who donated. Thanks for reaching out.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/14/news-opinion/2-republican-congressmen-attend-fundraiser-holocaust-denier?utm_source=JTA%20Maropost&utm_campaign=JTA&utm_medium=email&mpweb=1161-6021-185509

Yad Vashem questions honors for 3 Poles as Holocaust-era rescuers of Jews

Jonny Daniels

Jonny Daniels’ From the Depths organization honored three Poles last month for risking their lives to save Jews. Israel’s Yad Vashem museum took issue with the move. (Jonny Daniels/Facebook)

(JTA) — Israel’s state Holocaust museum expressed concerns over a Polish group honoring three people it did not recognize as having risked their lives to save Jews.

Joel Zisenwine, the director of the Yad Vashem museum’s Righteous Among the Nations department, said there is “fear that these actions may lead to misleading the public” in an email he sent this month to Holocaust commemoration activist Meir Bulka in Israel, who runs the JNerations group.

Bulka had written to Zisenwine to complain about the honoring of three people in Warsaw last month by the From the Depths organization, which was founded by Jonny Daniels, an Israeli-British Holocaust commemoration activist. Daniels has said the three honorees saved some 3,000 people by granting them documents that allowed them to escape.

“The basis for Daniels’ awarding of honors to rescuers of Jews is entirely unclear,” Zisenwine wrote.

One of the honorees, Julian Kulski, reportedly “had been appointed by the Nazis as acting mayor of Warsaw, demanding the leadership of the local Ghetto to reduce its size, vacate apartments etc.” Zisenwine wrote.

Yad Vashem had considered a request for recognition by the man’s son, but rejected it in the 1980s “due to conflicting testimonies and contradictions with other sources, that give a slightly different picture of his attitude to Jews,” Zisenwine said.

Among those who said Kulski helped saved the lives of Jews was Duda Falik, who told Yad Vashem in 1980 that Kulski hid her parents from 1940 to 1944.

Daniels told JTA that his group did not give any titles but defended its decision “to say thank you” to Kulski and any other person that it deems worthy of such a gesture based on its research and that of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance.

Recognition of Poles for saving Jews in the Holocaust is a sensitive issue.

Efforts in this field by Poland’s right-wing government have exposed it to criticism by some Jews who say it is highlighting Holocaust-era heroism to eclipse complicity.

Yad Vashem has recognized 6,863 Polish Righteous — far more than in any other country. But in February, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw alone had 90,000-150,000 people who risked their lives to save Jews.

Daniels’ advocates say he has made partnerships that reduce anti-Semitic rhetoric there. His critics, including Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, have accused him of helping the government politicize debate over the Holocaust, including in its passing this year of a controversial law making it illegal to blame Poland for Nazi crimes.

Daniels, who in February criticized a statement by Morawiecki as a form of “Holocaust denial,” defended his work as apolitical and devoted to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, as well as building cultural ties between Poland and Israel.

“We wish there were more Jewish foundations stepping forward to say thank you,” Daniels told JTA about the Yad Vashem criticism. His group, which interviews survivors and rescuers for testimonial films, will be holding additional events in the coming weeks to express gratitude to those it considers rescuers, he said, as “time is absolutely running out.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/13/news-opinion/yad-vashem-questions-honors-for-3-poles-as-holocaust-era-rescuers-of-jews

Jewish restaurant owner injured, restaurant vandalized during German neo-Nazi riots

Schalom restaurant Germany

Uwe Dziuballa, owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, Germany, talks to a journalist about the vandalism at his restaurant, Sept. 8, 2018. The attack took place two weeks earlier. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — An attack on a Jewish restaurant and its owner during last month’s riots in an east German city went unreported by law enforcement for several days, fueling anger by Jewish groups.

During anti-migrant demonstrations  in Chemnitz that turned violent on Aug. 27, about 12 masked neo-Nazis injured Uwe Dziuballa and vandalized his Schalom restaurant, according to Die Welt newspaper.

The attackers allegedly threw stones, bottles and a sawed-off steel pipe at Dziuballa and shouted, “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig.” A window in the restaurant was broken and Dziuballa was injured when a stone hit his shoulder.

Dziuballa has filed charges, according to the State Criminal Investigation Office in Saxony.

He said the police arrived on the scene quickly after he called them, but took a few days to secure evidence and record damage. Police confirmed the incident on Sept. 6; the local news media already had reported on it.

The Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism learned of the attack on Sept. 5 through the media reports and obtained photographs of alleged attackers dressed in black in front of the establishment.

Germany’s new commissioner against anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, told the newspaper that the incident appeared to represent a turn for the worse in anti-Semitic crimes.

“It is reminiscent of our worst recollections of the 1930s,” Klein said.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Munich and Bavaria, said in a statement on the eve of the Jewish New Year that the violent anti-migrant demonstrations in Chemnitz were already a wake-up call for the government and society.

“The fact that there was also a violent attack on the restaurant Schalom and its owner is shocking and underscores the urgency of resolute action against anti-democratic forces,” said Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust in hiding with a Christian family in Germany.

Dziuballa told die Welt he has often been subjected to anti-Semitic incidents, such as having swastikas painted on his storefront and pig heads left at the door. He nevertheless continues to keep the restaurant open.

Levi Salomon, the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism speaker, said in a statement that it was “outrageous that a masked mob in Chemnitz is attacking the city’s only Jewish restaurant, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, and we are not hearing about the case until days later.”

The group said the Saxony state office of criminal investigation assured it that “nothing was concealed” and did not always publicize individual cases under investigation.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/09/news-opinion/jewish-restaurant-owner-injured-restaurant-vandalized-german-neo-nazi-riots

70 years later, remains returned of Briton sent to Belsen for taking Nazi’s bike

Body of Frank Le Villio reinterred in ceremony in the Isle of Jersey

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The remains of a British man from Jersey who died following his imprisonment at a Nazi concentration camp were buried Wednesday near his home, over 70 years after he died.

Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, was occupied by Nazi forces from 1940 until the end of World War II.

Le Villio was sent to three different concentration camps during the war, including Bergen-Belsen in Germany, where some 200,000 people were taken. More than 52,000 camp inmates and 20,000 prisoners of war died there, among them the famous teenage diarist Anne Frank.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by British soldiers who found some 10,000 dead bodies when they entered the Nazi camp.

Though Le Villio survived, he died from tuberculosis in 1946 at 21 after returning to the United Kingdom and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at a cemetery in Nottingham, according to the BBC.

His remains were located in 2017 after being tracked down by Jersey resident Stanley Keiller, who was a boy at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands and took an interest in finding where Le Villio was buried.

“He was a young teenager who was taken away from us in those occupation years, and there’s a satisfaction in having found him,” the BBC quotedKeiller saying at the service Wednesday in St. Helier, near where Le Villio had lived.

Stan Hockley, A cousin of Le Villio’s who grew up with him, said the reburial was a “long, long journey.”

“The emphasis these days is on ‘forgive and forget.’ But those who say that — do they have relatives who were tortured and murdered, just for having an illicit ride on a bike?” Hockley said, according to The Daily Mail.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/briton-sent-to-bergen-belsen-for-taking-nazis-bike-has-remains-returned-home/

Prague station’s conversion to Holocaust memorial underway

The run-down property’s transformation is expected to take about two years

View of Prague, Czech Republic, on March 5, 2016 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

PRAGUE — The conversion of an abandoned railway station in Prague into a memorial for the Jews who were put on trains there to Nazi concentration camps has been launched in the Czech capital.

Activists have spent five years working to create the Memorial of Silence, which is meant to preserve the historical memory of the tens of thousands of Jews who departed from Bubny station during World War II.

With financing approved by City Hall, the run-down property’s transformation is expected to take about two years.

Before the war, nearly 120,000 Jews lived in the country known as Czechoslovakia. More than 80,000 died in the Holocaust.

Obchod na korze – jubilejní koncert a promítání oscarového filmu k oslavě přestavby Bubenského nádraží na Památník ticha před chvilkou zkončil. Moc děkujeme všem, kteří jste přišli.

Posted by Památník ticha Nádraží Bubny on Friday, 7 September 2018

An outdoor screening of an Oscar-winning 1965 Czech film set during the era, “The Shop on Main Street,” with a live orchestra marked the memorial’s launch on Friday.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/prague-stations-conversion-to-holocaust-memorial-underway/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=2fc8911b4f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_08_12_47&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-2fc8911b4f-55812549

A 1939 phone book could be key to unlocking Polish Holocaust restitution money

Holocaust survivors and their descendants can now prove ownership of properties seized during WWII, allowing them to open claims for compensation for the loss of their assets

Yoram Sztykgold examines the unpublished registry from 1939 that helped him locate his family’s assets at a military library in Warsaw, Sept. 4, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Yoram Sztykgold examines the unpublished registry from 1939 that helped him locate his family’s assets at a military library in Warsaw, Sept. 4, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

JTA — In the small park behind the only synagogue in this city to have survived World War II, Yoram Sztykgold looks around with a perplexed expression.

An 82-year-old retired architect, Sztykgold immigrated to Israel after surviving the Holocaust in Poland. He tries in vain to recognize something from what used to be his childhood home.

Sztykgold’s unfamiliarity with the part of Grzybowska Street where he spent his earliest years is not due to any memory loss. Like most of Warsaw, his parents’ apartment building was completely bombed out during the war and leveled, along with the rest of the street. His former home is now a placid park that is a favorite hangout for mothers pushing baby carriages and pensioners his age.

The dramatic changes in Warsaw’s landscape have bedeviled efforts for decades to obtain restitution for privately owned properties like Sztykgold’s childhood home, making it difficult for survivors like him to identify assets that may have belonged to their families.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler, 1943 (photo credit: first published in Stanisław Piotrowski (1948), released by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wikimedia Commons)

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler, 1943 (photo credit: first published in Stanisław Piotrowski (1948), released by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wikimedia Commons)

But for many restitution claimants in the capital, identifying assets will become easier thanks to a recent breakthrough with an unlikely source: the establishment of a first-of-its-kind searchable database. Users need only type in the name of their family to obtain a complete overview of all the assets they may claim under a new restitution drive in Warsaw.

It’s a high-tech tool only made possible thanks to the recent discovery of an unpublished phone book from 1939.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, set up the database in December 2016. It allowed a relative of Sztykgold to get the first definitive list of the assets the family had in Warsaw before the war, when they headed a real-estate empire.

The database allows users to check whether their family owned any of the 2,613 properties that the City of Warsaw said that year it would reopen for restitution claims.

Especially in Sztykgold’s case, the database had “a huge role,” he said, because the only adult from his family who survived the genocide was his mother, who “had only partial knowledge of what her family owned.”

“Bits and pieces, really,” Sztykgold told JTA on Monday during a restitution-related visit to his place of birth.

During the visit, Sztykgold also got a rare chance to examine the key that led to the groundbreaking database: a yellowing proofing copy of a phone book of sorts from 1939. It was never published because the directory was being prepared when the Germans invaded Poland.

Crucially, the phone book, or registry, contained information that allowed genealogist Logan Kleinwaks of Washington, DC, to find the names of the owners of thousands of assets, including approximately half of those 2,613 properties that Warsaw said it would reopen to claims.

Poland, where 3.3 million Jews lived before the Holocaust, is the only major country in Europe that has not passed national legislation for the restitution of property unjustly seized from private owners by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime, according to the WJRO. Instead of passing legislation, Polish authorities and courts handle restitution claims on a per-case basis.

This 1942 photo provided by the the public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows Heinrich Himmler, center left, shaking hands with new guard recruits at the Trawniki concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland. (public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum via AP)

Dozens of such cases have been resolved in recent years. Several Polish property attorneys told JTA that there is no way of knowing how many of the claims are by Jews.

As it carries out its controversial new restitution drive announced in 2016, Warsaw periodically releases a few dozen addresses of properties from its list that had been claimed during communism but whose status has never been resolved. The city does not release owners’ names, although it presumably has at least some of them from stalled restitution claims filed for each of the 2,613 assets. Critics of this practice say it deprives claimants of crucial information necessary to gain compensation. Advocates say it is designed to minimize fraud.

Once a property is reopened for restitution, claimants have six months to file a second claim. It is an unreasonably short period of time, according to WJRO. But for people like Sztykgold, who don’t even know which addresses their families used to own, the entire 2016 process is irrelevant.

Or, at least, it used to be until Kleinwaks “matched addresses announced in 2016 with the names of the owners” who are indicated in the 1939 registry, he said.

Today, the copy is kept in the vaults of the Central Military Library, which in 2014 bought it for about $3,000 from a book collector at an auction. The library then scanned the book and published the scans online. Kleinwaks, who had heard about the auction and was eagerly awaiting access to the book’s content, then used software he developed to build an owners’ database from the phone book, matching it with the 2,613 addresses.

So far, the City of Warsaw has reopened only about 300 of the restitution claims from the list of 2,613, and not one of the claimants has received compensation. Kleinwaks said he does not know how many people are using his database to mount claims. He has reached out personally to more than a dozen families whose names he found, he said, and some of them have subsequently initiated restitution work.

None of the Sztykgold family’s assets — there are over a dozen of them – have been reopened for restitution. But the Sztykgold family is already doing the footwork — locating birth certificates, building a family tree, proving they are the only heirs and many other bureaucratic chores — so that when their assets are reopened, they would have a hope of making the six-month deadline.

Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chair of operations, said it was “a very positive step” by Polish authorities to purchase and make available online the 1939 registry.

“But Poland has to now follow through and make that information actionable for heirs, instead of introducing procedure that make it more difficult to reclaim properties,” he said.

Unlike her husband, Liora Sztykgold, 77, can’t even use the WJRO database to find out whether her parents had any assets that are being reopened for restitution. An orphan who was left in the care of a Catholic convent, she knows neither her birth name nor her date of birth.

Sztykgold and wife Liora rest in a park that was built on the site of what used to be his childhood home in Warsaw, Sept. 5, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“It’s not about money,” said Liora, who has two children with Yoram. “Of course, we’d like to leave more to the grandchildren. It’s about achieving a measure of justice.”

Poland has returned communally owned properties worth many millions of dollars to Jewish and Christian organizations, among others. But it has resisted calls to pass legislation on privately owned properties.

In Warsaw, attempts to achieve justice on restitution are complicated, messy and feature many non-Jewish claimants.

About half of the 2,613 assets on the list being reopened were probably owned by non-Jewish Poles, according to Kleinwaks.

But “there is a general unwillingness to touch the issue,” according to Konstanty Gebert, a Jewish journalist for the Gazeta Wyborcza daily. This is largely because of corruption scandals plaguing it, he said, but additionally, “Many Poles feel the entire nation suffered under Nazism and communism, and that it’s wrong for only a few to get restitution.”

Then there are cases like that of Krystyna Danko, a non-Jewish woman who risked her life to save Jews during the Holocaust. She was forced out of her home at the age of 100 after the building where she had been living for decades on the ground floor was returned in 2016 to restitution claimants from Paris. (The claimant, Emilia Radziun, who owns a supermarket in the French capital, has told the Polish media that she is not Jewish. She did not reply to JTA’s attempts to reach her.)

Wojciech Danko sits on the bed while his mother, Krystyna, 101, rests in their Warsaw apartment, Sept. 6, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Now Danko lives in a public housing building on the sixth floor, where her wheelchair barely fits the rickety elevator. Her son, Wojciech, says that his mother, who is nearly 102, went blind during the weeks of the move from the stress involved.

“What happened to my mother wasn’t just, but I understand the Jewish perspective of seeking justice through restitution,” he said. “I think we need legislation and a compromise because the way this is going isn’t good for too many people.”
Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/a-1939-phone-book-could-be-key-to-unlocking-polish-holocaust-restitution-money/

Before the Holocaust, Ottoman Jews supported the Armenian genocide’s ‘architect’

Author Hans-Lukas Kieser says a desperate Zionist press praised the empire even during the slaughter of its minority population, a murder which Israel continues to gloss over today

Mehmed Talaat Pasha, left, with Ismail Enver Pasha and Turkish colonel Halil Sami Bey. (Courtesy University of Princeton Press)

Mehmed Talaat Pasha, left, with Ismail Enver Pasha and Turkish colonel Halil Sami Bey. (Courtesy University of Princeton Press)

This past June, a scheduled Knesset vote to recognize the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide was canceled due to a lack of government support.

Because of Israel’s complicated on-again, off-again diplomatic relationswith regional powerhouse Turkey, “it hasn’t been able to do what many Israelis have ethically wanted to do — publicly recognize the Armenian genocide in the Knesset,” Prof. Hans-Lukas Kieser tells The Times of Israel from his office at the University of Newcastle, Australia.

The political biography explores how Mehmed Talaat, more commonly known as Talaat Pasha, almost single-handedly masterminded the Armenian genocide.

Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) were rounded up on April 24, 1915, followed by the systematic extermination of 1.5 million people, primarily because of their Armenian ethnicity.

The ideologically motivated genocide took place under the supervision of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), led by three de facto leaders of the Ottoman Empire at the time: Ismail Enver, Ahmed Djemal, and Talaat. Collectively all three were known by their military titles as the “Three Pashas.”

Even though Turkey continues to officially deny the Armenian genocide, historians unanimously agree that it is a historical reality.

Mehmed Talaat Pasha, along with Ismail Enver Pasha and Ahmed Djemal Pasha, in 1912. (Courtesy University of Princeton Press)

Laying foundations for a Turkish state

Kieser’s book claims Talaat operated a new messianic form of nationalism that sought to “dilute” non-Muslim identities in his attempt at new nation building in Turkey in 1915. Talaat was the “mastermind of his genocidal universe,” Kieser claims.

The historian also says it was Talaat — rather than Kemal Ataturk — who laid the foundations for the modern Turkish nation state, which began in 1923.

“Of course the Turkish Republic [itself] came about under Kemal Ataturk,” Kieser says. “Talaat did not plan a republic — he was a son of the empire, after all. But he made a number of important steps so that Ataturk could then establish the Turkish nation state.”

Talaat led the Ottoman Empire into World War I “in jihad,” says the historian, transforming Asia Minor into a Turkish national home and creating a “Turkey for the Turks,” as per the slogan at the time.

Kieser’s book, over 400 pages long, makes for tough reading at points — especially as the historian recollects the systematic murder of Armenian Christians. He notes, for example, that the “removal of Armenians from Eastern Asia Minor mainly took place from May to September 1915, where women and children endured starvation, mass rape, and enslavement on their marches [towards death].”

Kieser says a great number of villages in northern Syria became an “arena of mass crimes” in 1915, where Armenian civilians — who were considered “fair prey” — “were raped, abducted, and murdered en masse without any protection, or punishment for the offenders.”

Prof. Hans-Lukas Kieser, author of ‘Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide.’ (Courtesy)

In the eyes of his admirers, however, Talaat is still seen as a great statesman, skillful revolutionary, and far-sighted founding father of the modern Turkish state, Kieser points out.

This narrative is especially pertinent in Turkey today, as it increasingly takes a more authoritarian and Islamist approach to its political identity. This is particularly notable, Kieser stresses, when it comes to the fundamentalist ideology of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“Talaat really is the elephant in the room [in Turkish politics] today,” Kieser says. “Erdoğan is the master of a party, so in that sense his [ideas] fall in line with Talaat — even if it’s not acknowledged very much in AKP circles in an explicit way.”

“But implicitly, Erdoğan and Talaat share a number of similarities where a democratic start eventually moves to a very authoritarian end,” he says.

Kieser says that like Talaat, Erdoğan is “far from a real democrat,” and shows a very “vague notion of what constitutionalism really means.”

Moreover, like the CUP leader, Erdoğan places all his efforts “on how to achieve and keep power.”

Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdogan reviews an honor guard as he arrives at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, on July 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

Ripples of shame

Israel’s recent decision to continue to remain silent on the 103-year-old genocide has garnered its share of criticism from historians, academics, writers and human rights activists — many from within Israel itself.

Prof. Yehuda Bauer, a leading Israeli historian and an academic adviser to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, said in a June radio interview that the Israeli parliament’s failure to recognize the Armenian genocide was a “betrayal.”

Benjamin Abtan, the president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) and the coordinator of the Elie Wiesel Network of Parliamentarians of Europe, in an article published in Haaretz in June claimed that Israel had “a particular responsibility in recognizing the Armenian genocide [to] ensure mass atrocities [were prevented] in the future.”

According to Kieser, recognizing the Armenian genocide holds a relevance for Israelis today beyond the usual discussion of Israel-Turkey relations. Jews, he says, historically played a key role in promoting propaganda from the Ottoman side as Armenians continued to be slaughtered.

The historian says that Talaat enjoyed “particularly good Jewish press” in Istanbul and abroad” during the period surrounding the genocide — notably in Germany, where newspapers like Deutsche Levante-Zeitung praised Talaat as “an outstanding leader” and the “savior of imperial Turkey.”

Although this glorification smacked of propaganda and lies, Kieser claims many Germans bought into the words of the Jewish press at the time and were affected by its corrosive logic.

A pro-Talaat Pasha article in the Zionist newsletter, the Deutsche Levante-Zeitung. (Courtesy University of Princeton Press)

Currying favor?

The historian recalls how many Jews loyal to the Ottomans largely looked the other way where the suffering of Armenians was concerned. This included figures such as Alfred Nossig, who helped found both the General Jewish Colonization Organization (AJK) and the Zionist Organization (ZO).

Both were set up for the purpose of Jewish lobbying across the Middle East and elsewhere, and subsequently encouraged intimate relations between Jews and Ottomans.

However, Kieser is keen to emphasize that some historical context is needed. This was a crucial turning point in Jewish history — before the Balfour Declaration was announced in 1917. Jews were looking for diplomatic favors — from a myriad of countries — wherever they could find them, in the hopes of securing Zionism’s ultimate end goal: a Jewish state in Palestine.

Consequently, a number of Jewish newspapers purposely tried to promote relations between Talaat and Jewish politicos and diplomats within the dying Ottoman Empire. They even grossly exaggerated these relations for propaganda purposes, Kieser says.

The German Jewish newspaper Die Welt — the mouthpiece of the Zionist Organization — for instance, wrote in 1913 of Talaat’s “friendly relations with many Jewish personalities.”

Mehmed Talaat Pasha, pre-1921. (Public domain)

Still, even for all of the positive Jewish press Talaat received during this period, his attitudes to Zionism were complex. On the one hand, Talaat did not want to be associated much with Jews and Zionism. But on the other, there were potential benefits in publicly courting Jewish political interests.

In 1913, an article published in the Istanbul-based L’Aurore, a Jewish newspaper financed by Zionists, praised the benefits of Jewish-Turkish relations, even hinting that an alliance between Pan-Judaism and Pan Islamism in Turkey could be a viable political option — something Kieser says Talaat was seduced by.

But the historian is keen to stress that Talaat in no way sympathized with Zionism, despite claims from both observers of the time and a number of historians since.

“We know from what he said and what he wrote that he was in no way sympathetic with Zionism. It’s also clear from the negotiations that he only needed the Jews to a certain extent in order to survive internationally. And he was successful in this regard,” he says.

“The Jewish Question” involved Jews jostling for political favors from the Ottomans, who still held considerable sway in the Middle East. But the power dynamics also worked the other way too, the historian explains.

“Talaat’s relationship with Jews during this time gave him considerable international leverage that he successfully used to deflect attention from Armenia,” Kieser says.

“In spring 1915 — which was a honeymoon for the Zionists in Istanbul — Talaat made sure there were no conflicting issues internationally because he wanted to strike the Armenians,” says Kieser. “Jews feared they would suffer the same fate as the Armenians, so they in no way welcomed any pro-Armenian or pro-victim activity [reporting] because they feared for themselves.”

Sara Aaronsohn, one of the founders of the pre-British Mandate Palestine espionage ring NILI. (Public domain)

Upstart Zionist youth take a stance

There were, however, some exceptions — notably, a group of young Zionists called Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker (NILI), or, The Eternal One of Israel Will Not Lie, a pro-British espionage group in Palestine at the time.

NILI felt a strong sense of solidarity with the Armenian victims, even writing reports which they sent out to the international community in the hope of waking them up to the atrocities.

“The NILI group — which contained people like Aaaron Aronson and others — saw the Armenian genocide, and even wrote long reports about it,” Kieser says. “They saw that this total stigmatization and finally extermination was a process that could also happen with the Jews.”

“So they were deeply sympathetic not just emotionally, but also in a Biblical and prophetic approach,” he adds. “But they were a small minority.”

“Unfortunately, the silence carried on many decades after the war. So you had Jews in Israel and the Jews in Turkey who continued to help Turkey deny the Armenian genocide,” Kieser says.

Kieser makes a point in the book of comparing the Armenian genocide with the Holocaust, and finds some similarities.

‘Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide,’ by Hans-Lukas Kieser. (Courtesy Princeton University Press) “Imperial cataclysm and a particular combination of circumstances in the first months of WWI made the Armenians an obvious target,” he writes.

 

He goes on to state, “Actors from the top and below, extremist ideas, entrenched prejudices, and material incentives colluded in the brute destruction [of the Armenians].”

A little more than two decades later, Europe’s Jews were to experience “an analogous situation,” he observes.

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler asked his generals in his infamous Obersalzberg speech on August 22, 1939 — just days before Germany’s invasion of Poland.

Talaat “certainly wasn’t Hitler,” says the historian, admitting that he is reluctant to make direct comparisons between both far-right demagogues.

Nevertheless, both leaders share a number of similarities, Kieser says — they represented societies, states and political parties that embraced radical domestic violence to overcome what they believed were crisis and defeat.

“Talaat was the mastermind of a single party regime,” Kieser concludes. “It was a single party rule that very strongly stigmatized one particular group.”

I survived the Warsaw ghetto. Here are the lessons I’d like to pass on

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I’m 93, and, as extremism sweeps across Europe, I fear we are doomed to repeat the mistakes which created the Holocaust

The Warsaw uprising, 1944.

‘The battle to draw the right lessons from that time is in danger of being lost.’ The Warsaw uprising, 1944. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

 

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel stated this summer that “when the generation that survived the war is no longer here, we’ll find out whether we have learned from history”. As a Polish Jew born in 1925, who survived the Warsaw ghetto, lost my family in the Holocaust, served in a special operations unit of the Polish underground, the Home Army, and fought in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, I know what it means to be at the sharp end of European history – and I fear that the battle to draw the right lessons from that time is in danger of being lost.

Now 93 years old and living in Tel Aviv, I have watched from afar in recent years as armchair patriots in my native Poland have sought to exploit and manipulate the memories and experiences of my generation. They may think they are promoting “national dignity” or instilling “pride” in today’s young people, but in reality they are threatening to raise future generations in darkness, ignorant of the war’s complexity and doomed to repeat the mistakes for which we paid such a high price.

Stanisław Aronson as an officer in the Second Carpathian Rifles, under British command in Italy. 1946

Stanisław Aronson as an officer in the Second Carpathian Rifles, under British command in Italy, in 1946

 

But this is not just a Polish phenomenon: it is happening in many parts of Europe, and our experiences hold lessons for the whole continent.

Given what I’ve learned over my lifetime I would, first, urge future generations of Europeans to remember my generation as we really were, not as they may wish us to have been. We had all the same vices and weaknesses as today’s young people do: most of us were neither heroes nor monsters.

Of course, many people did extraordinary things, but in most cases only because they were forced to by extreme circumstances, and even then, true heroes were very few and far between: I do not count myself among them.

The same applies to those who failed in their moral obligations during that time. Of course, there were many who committed unspeakable, unforgivable crimes. But it is nonetheless important to understand that we were a generation living in fear, and fear makes people do terrible things. Unless you have felt it, you cannot truly understand it.

‘I ended up moving to what was then the British mandate of Palestine, fighting for a Jewish homeland.’
 ‘I ended up moving to what was then the British mandate of Palestine, fighting for a Jewish homeland.’ Photograph: Stanisław Aronson papers

And although the Third Reich destroyed my world, it was a German woman who saved my life by introducing me to the men who would recruit me into the Polish underground. No nation has a monopoly on virtue – something that many people, including many of my fellow Israeli citizens, still struggle to understand.

Third, do not underestimate the destructive power of lies. When the war broke out in 1939, my family fled east and settled for a couple of years in Soviet-occupied Lwów (now Lviv in western Ukraine). The city was full of refugees, and rumours were swirling about mass deportations to gulags in Siberia and Kazakhstan. To calm the situation, a Soviet official gave a speech declaring that the rumours were false – nowadays they would be called “fake news” – and that anyone spreading them would be arrested. Two days later, the deportations to the gulags began, with thousands sent to their deaths.

The Aronson family in Lwów, 1940 or 1941

The Aronson family in Lwów, in the early 1940 or 1941 Photograph: Stanisław Aronson

Those people and millions of others, including my immediate family, were killed by lies. My country and much of the continent was destroyed by lies. And now lies threaten not only the memory of those times, but also the achievements that have been made since. Today’s generation doesn’t have the luxury of being able to argue that it was never warned or did not understand the consequences of where lies will take you.

Confronting lies sometimes means confronting difficult truths about one’s self and one’s own country. It is much easier to forgive yourself and condemn another, than the other way round; but this is something that everyone must do. I have made my peace with modern Germany, and hope that all Europeans can do the same.

Perhaps it is because I was only a child that I did not notice the storm clouds that were gathering, but I believe that many who were older and wiser than me at that time also shared my childlike state.

If disaster comes, you will find that all the myths you once cherished are of no use to you. You will see what it is like to live in a society where morality has collapsed, causing all your assumptions and prejudices to crumble before your eyes. And after it’s all over, you will watch as, slowly but surely, these harshest of lessons are forgotten as the witnesses pass on and new myths take their place.

 Stanisław Aronson took part in the Polish resistance under Nazi occupation. He lives in Israel

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/05/survived-warsaw-ghetto-wartime-lessons-extremism-europe?CMP=share_btn_link