Warsaw Ghetto museum planned for hospital whose patients were sent to death camp

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — The Polish government wants to create a Warsaw Ghetto museum in a hospital that had its patients and workers sent to the Treblinka death camp.

“The creation of the Warsaw Ghetto museum is in the initial phase of preparation, both substantively and organizationally,” the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage told JTA in a statement.

The museum planned for the former Bersohn and Bauman Hospital building in Warsaw will be developed in cooperation with the Jewish Historical Institute. In its statement, the ministry did not set a timetable for the opening.

“This is a very good initiative both for commemorating the Warsaw residents who were separated by the wall and the first Warsaw uprising,” said Polish-Jewish activist Piotr Kadlcik, whose immediate family died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Piotr Pazinski, the editor in chief of Midrasz magazine, said he was pleased the ghetto would be commemorated in Warsaw but wanted further details.

“And I hope for a place devoted to the life and death of the Warsaw Ghetto from the inside, the voices of the people who lived and died in it,” he said.

Bersohn and Bauman Hospital began operating in 1878. Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish humanitarian who accompanied more than 190 orphaned children when they were transported to the Nazi camp Treblinka, worked there during the years 1905 to 1912.

In the interwar years, the hospital was taken over by the Society of Friends of Children, and its expansion was financed by the Jewish community and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. During World War II, the hospital was located within the ghetto before its location was changed twice.

In 1942, its patients and workers were taken to Treblinka, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where 700,000 to 900,000 people were killed. After the war, the Central Committee of Polish Jews took over the hospital building.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/11/20/news-opinion/world/warsaw-ghetto-museum-planned-for-hospital-whose-patients-were-sent-to-death-camp

Brazilian students simulate Nazi human experiments for science fair

A banner reading “Nazi laboratory” hanging at the Milecimo da Silva high school in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (Screenshot from Facebook)

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Brazilian high school students simulated medical experiments that the Nazis conducted on concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust.

The students at Milecimo da Silva high school in Rio De Janeiro were recently assigned to re-create a Nazi laboratory for a science fair. According to the Brazilian Israelite Confederations, the country’s umbrella Jewish group, the purpose of the exhibition was to highlight the supposed scientific progress made by Nazi doctors working in concentration camps.

Photos posted on Facebook show a red banner hung in the school with swastikas and white letters saying “Nazi laboratory.” In the darkened fake blood-stained “lab,” students playing doctors wear medical uniforms and swastika armbands. Others pretend to be suffering patients.

The Rio State Department of Education reportedly has opened an investigation to determine whether the school promoted Nazism, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.

Students at Milecimo da Silva high school simulating Nazi human experiments in Rio De Janeiro. (Screenshot from Facebook)

During World War II, a number of German physicians — notably Josef Mengele — conducted painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent. The experiments sought to improve the performance of Nazi soldiers and advance the Nazis’ racial ideology, including the notion of the Jews’ inferiority. The Nazis killed some 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

In April, a third-grade classroom in a private school in Recife, in northeastern Brazil, was decorated with Nazi flags during a lesson on totalitarian regimes. The teacher wore a Nazi armband. The school later praised him on social media for the lesson.

After facing criticism, the school’s officials conceded that the tone of their post was inappropriate and took it down, but they refused to apologize for the lesson, according to the local Jewish federation.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/11/14/news-opinion/world/brazilian-high-schoolers-simulate-nazi-human-experiments-for-science-fair#.WgshY9Ng3j4.email

Indonesian museum removes Nazi-themed exhibit after outrage

Display featured a life size wax sculpture of Hitler standing in front of a huge photo of the gates of Auschwitz

This photograph taken on November 10, 2017 shows an Indonesian family preparing to take a photograph with a life-size wax sculpture of Adolf Hitler at a museum in Yogyakarta (AFP / HENRYANTO)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian museum that allowed visitors to take selfies with a life-size wax sculpture of Hitler against a backdrop of Auschwitz concentration camp has removed the exhibit following international outrage, the manager said Saturday.

De ARCA Statue Art Museum in the Javanese city of Jogjakarta drew swift condemnation from rights groups after details of the controversial display were published in foreign media.

The exhibit features a sure-footed Hitler standing in front of a huge photo of the gates of Auschwitz — the largest Nazi concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people were killed.

The museum’s operations manager, Jamie Misbah, said the the wax sculpture had been removed after the building was alerted to criticism from prominent Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We don’t want to attract outrage,” Misbah told AFP.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photo, a visitor uses her mobile phone to take a photo of the wax figure of Adolf Hitler displayed against the backdrop of an image of Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau at De Mata Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

“Our purpose to display the Hitler figure in the museum is to educate.”

The Hitler sculpture is one of about 80 figures, including world leaders and celebrities, at the wax and visual effects center.

The Nazi-themed exhibit was a popular attraction for visitors to take selfies, and photos circulating on social media show customers — including children — posing with Hitler and in some cases using the Nazi salute.

Misbah said he thought it was “normal” for visitors to take photos in front of displays, but said the museum respected the exhibit had upset people from around the world.

Historians have blamed poor schooling for the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the Holocaust in Indonesia, which is home to the world’s biggest Muslim population and a small number of Jews.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photo, a visitor walks past the wax figure of Adolf Hitler displayed against the backdrop of an image of Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau next to Star Wars character Darth Vader, right, at De Mata Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

In January, a controversial Nazi-themed cafe in the western Javanese city of Bandung closed.

The venue, which featured swastika-bearing walls and photos of Hitler, sparked global uproar when reports about the unusual venue surfaced several years ago.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/indonesian-museum-removes-nazi-themed-exhibit-after-outrage/

US museum debuts first 3-D holograms of Holocaust survivors


Chicago exhibit uses voice-recognition technology and machine learning to let visitors ask questions about hardships under Nazi regime

Students raise their hand as they direct questions to Holocaust survivor Adina Sella as she is displayed on a three-dimensional hologram at the Take A Stand Center in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center on October 26, 2017, in Skokie, Illinois. (Joshua Lott/AFP)

CHICAGO, United States (AFP) — Seated onstage at a museum near Chicago, Adina Sella talks about her life as a Holocaust survivor.

A group of young school kids is entranced — all the more so because Sella is not actually there.

Her likeness is being beamed in the form of an interactive and moving hologram, part of a first-of-its-kind exhibition debuting this weekend at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which aims to preserve accounts of a fast-disappearing generation.

“She has their undivided attention,” teacher Samantha O’Neill of Chicago’s Northside Catholic Academy said.

“It really does look like she is sitting on the stage in front of you.”

The exhibit uses voice-recognition technology and machine learning to let visitors ask questions about survivors’ World War II ordeals and hear answers that grow more relevant with time, as the technology learns.

Thirteen Holocaust survivors, most living in the United States, but also from Canada, Israel and Britain, were recorded for the exhibit.

They answered thousands of questions, each sitting for about a week of high-definition video recording.

“It prepares us for the day when our survivors will not be here,” the museum’s chief executive Susan Abrams said.

The Nazis murdered some six million Jews, and millions of other people, in the Holocaust. As survivors age, organizations are grappling with the dilemma of how to preserve their stories.

Movie director Steven Spielberg in 1994 established a foundation that video recorded 55,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

His organization eventually became the Shoah Foundation, a part of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. And it is that group that teamed up with the Illinois museum to create the holograms.

Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster speaks to reporters as he is displayed on a three-dimensional hologram at the Take A Stand Center at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center on Thursday, October 26, 2017 in Skokie, Illinois. (Joshua Lott/AFP)

Realistic interaction

The project took nearly three years. Survivors were seated in the middle of a half dome studio filled with high-definition cameras and lights to capture them from multiple angles.

The finished product makes its world premiere Sunday, and offers a real-time conversation with the likeness of a survivor. Early tests of the $5 million exhibit have been encouraging, Abrams said.

“Audiences feel even more comfortable asking their questions to the hologram, because they’re not worried that they’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings or make them upset. And so, this has really been a powerful tool,” she said.

In the museum’s auditorium before Sunday’s debut, dozens of elementary school children listened as Sella sat onstage in a red chair. The occasional sputter of her projected image was a reminder that she was not really there.

“How old are you now?” one child asked.

A museum facilitator repeated the question into a microphone, and the technology powering the hologram offered a corresponding answer, recorded in such a way that it would remain relevant forever.

“I was born December 1st, 1935, and so please figure out,” Sella answered with a heavy accent.

The children quickly did the math and realized she was 81.

‘Experienced globally’

The museum, as with other institutions dedicated to the Holocaust, still holds regular in-person talks with survivors — a group known as its “Speakers’ Bureau.”

One of the leaders of that group is Aaron Elster, who also was one of the first to sit through the hologram recording process.

“Most of us are concerned that within a short period of time when we’re gone, what happens,” Elster said.

Would survivors become a historical footnote, “or are we still alive, in essence, to tell people what happened?”

“We feel it’s really important. We want our families to be remembered,” he added.

The museum plans to eventually license the hologram project to other institutions, so they can also create exhibitions.

“We want this to be experienced globally,” Abrams said.

The institution emphasized that the holograms are merely a part of its exhibition entitled “Take a Stand Center.”

Geared toward school children, there are also touchscreen panels featuring historical and contemporary inspirational figures, among them Nelson Mandela of South Africa and teen activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-museum-debuts-first-3-d-holograms-of-holocaust-survivors/

Poland just honored a historian who said the Nazi invasion wasn’t so bad for the Jews

Tomasz Panfil, standing at rear, left, was among the educators receiving honorary medals from the Polish Minister of National Education at a ceremony in Warsaw, Oct. 16, 2017. (Institute of National Remembrance)

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — A Polish historian who said the country’s Nazi invasion was initially not so bad for Jews received a medal from the Polish education minister “for special merits for education.”

The minister, Anna Zalewska, presented Tomasz Panfil with the honor at a ceremony Oct. 16 in Warsaw.

Panfil, who is responsible for education at the Institute of National Remembrance in Lublin, wrote an article earlier this month in which he stated that “after the aggression of Germany into Poland, the situation of the Jews did not look very bad.”

“Although the [Nazi] occupation authorities took over, they ordered the wearing of armbands with the star of David, charged them heavy taxes, began to designate Jews-only zones only for the Jews,” he wrote, “but at the same time permitted the creation of Judenrat, that is, organs of self-government.”

The Institute of National Remembrance criticized Panfil for his statement. Holocaust historians note that the Judenrats were specifically set up to carry out German policy in the newly formed ghettos, where Jews were forbidden to leave under penalty of death.

The Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper this week revealed that in 2014, Panfil issued an expert opinion to a Polish court in which he wrote that the swastika is an ambiguous symbol — not only related to Nazism, but also one that symbolizes happiness in some cultures. He also claimed then that the NSDAP, or the Nazi Party, was a leftist party.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/10/24/news-opinion/world/polish-historian-who-said-nazi-invasion-not-so-bad-receives-state-education-medal#.We92oz-0D7M.email

Polish restitution bill discriminates against Holocaust survivors, Israel says

(JTA) — In an unusual move, Israel accused Poland of “discriminating against Holocaust survivors” in considering legislation on restitution whose language excludes many Jewish would-be recipients.

Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, on Friday lodged an official complaint with the Polish foreign ministry over a bill unveiled last week, which would require those seeking restitution for nationalized property to be citizens living in Poland and exclude all heirs except “first-line heirs,” meaning spouses, children or grandchildren.

Some  3 million Polish Jews, or 90 percent of their pre-war population, were murdered in the Holocaust.

“Israel believes the envisaged legislation discriminates against Holocaust survivors,” read a draft of Azari’s letter of protest, whose content an official in Jerusalem shared with JTA Friday.

The letter constitutes a departure from the Israeli foreign ministry’s usual approach to restitution issues in recent decades, in which the ministry plays a facilitating role while refraining from directly commenting on legislation or unresolved restitution issues.

The letter objects to the exclusion of non-citizens and second-degree relatives from restitution under the new bill. It notes that Nazi persecution meant no other groups “shared the fate of the Jews” in occupied Poland.

“First the Nazis seized private property and then the communist authorities of Poland seized it, when most Polish Jews were already dead,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to speak to media about the issue.

Because the Holocaust “wiped out a whole generation” of Polish Jews, the official added, “it means the bulk of Jewish claimants are not direct descendants. That’s the discriminatory element in the bill.”

The World Jewish Restitution Organization in a statement acknowledged Israel’s open involvement in the issue and thanked the Israel government’s position.

“We greatly welcome the strong engagement of the government of Israel asking Poland to address this issue,” said Gideon Taylor, the organization’s chair of operations. “This is about justice and we have been urging the government of Poland to amend the proposed legislation to ensure that it is fair for all claimants including Holocaust survivors and their families in Israel and around the world.”

Poland is the only major country in Europe that has not passed national legislation for the restitution of property seized by the Nazis nor for property nationalized by a communist regime, according to the WJRO.

In 1997, Poland passed a law for restitution on communal-owned properties, but more than 15 years after the claim filing deadline, a majority of more than 5,000 claims has still not been resolved and most of the resolved claims have not led to restitution or compensation, the WJRO said.

Restitution experts estimate that following the Holocaust, Jewish individuals and institutions in Poland lost property with a combined value exceeding $1 billion.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/10/27/news-opinion/world/polish-restitution-bill-discriminates-against-holocaust-survivors-israel-says

UK funding last-ditch effort to interview Polish witnesses to Holocaust-era rescue efforts

(JTA) — Holocaust-commemoration activists in Poland launched with British government funding a last-ditch effort to interview witnesses to attempts to rescue Jews during from the genocide.

The campaign, titled “Silent Heroes,” was announced Thursday at a news conference in Warsaw that was organized by the From the Depths organization and attended by the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Eric Pickles, and the head of Poland’s largest Jewish organization, TSKZ President Artur Hoffman.

One witness who was interviewed last month, Natalia Jakoniuk, suffered a debilitating stroke the following week, demonstrating how “time is of the essence and not on our side,” From the Depths founder, Jonny Daniels, said.

Under the new campaign, in which journalists and researchers conduct filmed interviews with witnesses, posters  asking witnesses to step forward will be placed in government offices with nationwide distribution.

In her testimony, Jakoniuk, who was a child younger than 10 during World War II, said she recalls people living in the attic of her home in the village of Przeradz Maly outside Warsaw. “They didn’t tell us, the children,” she said of her parents. But they did instruct her to be “on the lookout, to see if the German gendarmerie who invaded Poland were coming.”

One time, when she was six years old, she was told to run to neighboring village to warn the residents that the Germans were coming, she said. “That was my job,” she recalled in the interview. That year, a German soldier inspected their house and complimented her mother on how tidy it was, not knowing there were Jews hiding in the attic.

“If he had taken a ladder and climbed up to the attic, we would have all been killed,” she said.

From the Depths attempts to substantiate the testimonies it is collecting with Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance and other archives, Daniels said.

Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust museum, is the authority entrusted by Israel’s government to confer the title of Righteous Among the Nations on non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews. The rigorous vetting process requires testimonies by several people who witnessed the attempt. The cases documented by From the Depths may not pass this vetting “simply because not all rescue cases had witnesses,” Daniels said, adding: “This is about documentation, not titles.”

Hoffman said his motivation for making TSKZ a partner in the project is that: “The world needs to see what good people can do in bad times, what being a true hero is.”

Poland under President Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice Party has highlighted the actions of Poles who saved Jews, including by opening a museum for them.

Critics of Poland’s government, including the country’s main federation of Jewish organizations, allege that its nationalist agenda is emboldening anti-Semites and that its emphasis on rescuers must not come at the expense of efforts to research and expose collaboration by Poles and atrocities by locals against Jews.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2017/10/29/news-opinion/world/uk-funding-last-ditch-effort-to-interview-polish-witnesses-to-holocaust-era-rescue-efforts#.WfYqkP7sKoA.email

Yad Vashem to Honor First Arab as Righteous Gentile

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, an Egyptian urologist living in Berlin, risked his life to hide four of his Jewish friends. The honor was initially offered in 2013, but Dr. Helmy’s relatives refused to accept it from an institution based in Israel.

Later this week, Yad Vashem will for the first time recognize an Arab, Dr. Mohamed Helmy, as a Righteous Among the Nations for saving the lives of four of his Jewish friends in the Holocaust.

An Egyptian urologist who moved to Berlin in 1922, Dr. Helmy was working for the Robert Koch Institute, but was fired in 1937 for being non-Aryan. He was arrested by the Nazis, but was released shortly thereafter and allowed to return to his home. When the Nazis began deporting Berlin’s Jews, Dr. Helmy hid Anna Boros, a 21-year-old family friend, in his cabin in the city’s Buch neighborhood, where she assumed a false identity, pretended to be married to a Muslim man, and wore a hijab. Dr. Helmy also helped hide Boros’s mother Julie, her stepfather Gerog Wehr, and her grandmother, Cecilie Rudnik, and was himself nearly caught after the family was discovered and tortured in 1944.

Having all survived, the family emigrated to the United States after the war, but continued to return to Berlin and visit Dr. Helmy. They also wrote letters to the local German government extolling the virtues of their rescuer, who died in 1982.

“A good friend of our family, Dr. Helmy hid me in his cabin in Berlin-Buch from 10 March until the end of the war,” read one such letter. “As of 1942, I no longer had any contact with the outside world. The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician, and they knew that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch. He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin… Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity.”

In 2013, Yad Vashem recognized Dr. Helmy as a Righteous Gentile, but his family refused to accept the honor because the institute is based in Israel.

“If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it,” the wife of Dr. Helmy’s grandnephew, representing the family, said at the time. Now, four years later, another relative of Dr. Helmy’s, an 81-year-old professor of medicine named Nasser Kutbi and the son of Dr. Helmy’s nephew, has agreed to accept the award on his relative’s behalf. It will be presented to him in Berlin this Thursday.

Source: http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/247618/yad-vasehm-to-honor-first-arab-as-righteous-gentile