War hero or Nazi collaborator? Family partners with victim’s kin to expose truth

Vilnius trial will see whether Jonas Noreika was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center; his granddaughter says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews

Left to right: Grant Gochin (Courtesy); Accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (Courtesy); and granddaughter Silvia Foti (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

Left to right: Grant Gochin (Courtesy); Accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (Courtesy); and granddaughter Silvia Foti (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

LONDON — Seventy years after he was shot by the Soviets, the reputation of Jonas Noreika goes on trial in Lithuania next week.

Noreika — a hero to many in the Baltic state for resisting the Communists’ subjugation of their country — stands accused of being a Nazi collaborator who was complicit in the Holocaust.

It has been brought by Grant Gochin, a Lithuanian citizen living in the US, whose relatives were among Noreika’s victims.

But in an extraordinary twist, Gochin’s effort is being actively supported by Noreika’s granddaughter. Silvia Foti has spent more than two decades investigating “General Storm,” as her grandfather is known to many in his former homeland. Her conclusion is brutal: “Jonas Noreika willingly played a role in cleansing Lithuania of Jews. He did everything in his power to help the Nazis kill Jews, and nothing to stop them.”

Foti, a Chicago high school teacher who is soon due to publish a book about Noreika, has submitted a letter to the court stating that her independent research corroborates material gathered for Gochin’s lawsuit. Lithuanian academics have spent 850 hours reviewing 20,000 pages of historical documents.

Grant Gochin is pursuing a case against a Lithuanian state entity tasked with researching and educating about genocide and war crimes. (Courtesy)

Gochin praises Foti as “a woman of incredible bravery and dignity who understands that reconciliation can only come from a place of truth, and that truth must be told.”

“Her stepping forward means everything to me because her independent research validates all of my research, it shows that people that believe in truth and justice can cooperatively work towards a better future,” Gochin says.

“Her integrity restores my faith in humanity. I hope one day, Lithuania will recognize her as a true Lithuanian hero,” he adds.

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, invaded in 1941 by the Germans, and then annexed by Josef Stalin after the advancing Red Army swept through the country in 1944. The country’s independence was not restored until the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 50 years later.

“General Storm’s” supposed heroic status rests on his effort to organize postwar resistance to the Soviets while working as a lawyer at Vilnius’s Academy of Sciences. Arrested and tortured by the KGB, he nonetheless led the defense of 11 fellow anti-Soviet rebels. He was executed at the age of 37 in 1947.

But this narrative obscures a darker side to Noreika’s story, who was a member of Lithuania’s nationalist underground. It initially viewed the Germans as liberators, timed an uprising against the Soviets to coincide with their arrival, and falsely hoped they would restore the autonomy snuffed out by Stalin the previous year.

Indeed, even before the German occupation, local paramilitary groups initiated pogroms against Jews. Most of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by December 1941 — a month before the Wannsee Conference commenced the Final Solution — with a significant role played by Lithuanian auxiliary forces.

Over two hundred thousand Jews, an estimated 96 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population, died in the Holocaust — the highest percentage of any country in Europe.

Aftermath of the Kovno, Lithuania (or Kaunas) ‘garage’ massacre in June of 1941, perpetrated by pro-German Lithuanians (public domain)

Noreika led the nationalist uprising in Žemaitija and then became a county administrator in the northwestern part of the country after the German invasion. On his watch, an estimated 14,500 Jews are believed to have been murdered in Plungė, Telšiai, and across the Šiauliai district. While he may not have killed Jews personally, Noreika signed directives in the summer of 1941 which ordered Jews to be sent to ghettos and outlined how their property should be distributed. His family benefited directly from the plunder, moving into a house in Plungė seized from its Jewish owners.

Gochin’s lawsuit charges that the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, which was established in 1992 to study the country’s experience of Nazi and Soviet occupation, has intentionally distorted Noreika’s role in the murder of Jews and persists in portraying him as a national hero. Its actions are, it is claimed, tantamount to Holocaust denial, which is a crime in Lithuania.

Noreika’s memory is honored by street names, memorials and an inscribed stone block on a central Vilnius street. A village school in his hometown is also named after him. In 2015, a petition signed by prominent Lithuanian politicians, historians and writers called upon the government to remove a plaque from the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Sciences Building. The Genocide and Resistance Research Center reportedly denounced the move as Russian-inspired and said it was “assisted by some Jews.” Critics in turn accuse the Center of being “a bastion of far-right extremism that, in the opinion of many, does grave damage to the image of modern democratic Lithuania.”

Last year, Lithuanian Jewish community leaders joined calls for the plaque to be removed. “Noreika collaborated with the Nazi regime and contributed to the persecution of Lithuanian Jews, and this person can in no way be portrayed as a Lithuanian hero,” they said in a statement.

“We believe the Lithuanian people, now celebrating 100 years of statehood, are mature enough to accept the whole of historical facts and the state is capable of accepting responsibility for this public display of disrespect to historical truth,” read the statement.

Main entrance to the Ghetto of Vilnius in Lithuania, during WWII (Wikimedia Commons – public domain)

The Center refused a request to comment on the case from The Times of Israel.

An obsession rooted in a family tree

Gochin’s interest in Norieka was sparked when he began genealogical research in the 1980s.

“Virtually every branch of my family ended in 1941 in Lithuania as a result of Holocaust murders. My family came from one region in Lithuania, I researched who murdered them. All roads led to Noreika,” he recalls.

At first Gochin, who was born in South Africa and serves as the Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, believed that Noreika had been honored by the Lithuanian government in error.

“It took me a long time to recognize that honoring Holocaust perpetrators was a deliberate inversion of their history,” he says.

Gochin has detailed his campaign to expose and counter Lithuania’s alleged Holocaust revisionism in a series of blogs for The Times of Israel.

Accused Nazi collaborator, ‘General Storm’ Jonas Noreika (Courtesy)

Der Spiegel magazine had written about Norieka’s complicity in the 1980s, and some of his documents had been known since the 1970s. Over the past six years, others have attempted to bring the truth about Noreika’s wartime record to light.

Last year, Gochin commissionedLithuanian Holocaust experts Andrius Kulikauskas and Evaldas Balčiūnas to investigate Noreika’s crimes. Their 40-page report was rejected by the Genocide and Resistance Research Center which went on to accuse Gochin of “possibly violating the Republic of Lithuania’s Constitution and the Republic of Lithuania’s Criminal Code.”

Although confident of the historical facts, Gochin is nonetheless doubtful about the independence of the Lithuanian courts, which he believes tend to favor the position of the state.

“I brought this case because appealing for honesty about the Holocaust from the Lithuanian government has proven to be futile,” says Gochin. “It is clear to me that the only means to accomplish truth is via an independent, impartial, honest legal process, without government influence — this process will only be available in European courts. This case is a stepping stone to get the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Gochin holds out little hope for the case which begins next week — it is presided over by a judge who, he says, has twice ruled against him using technicalities on other Noreika lawsuits — and plans to appeal any unfavorable decisions until he can get out of the Lithuanian courts and into the European courts.

The European Court of Human Rights enforces the European Convention on Human Rights which has been ratified by almost all European countries.

Gochin does not blame individual Lithuanians, saying they have been fed lies about the past by their government.

The Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, which came to be known as the 'Fort of Death' during World War II, when it served for the murder of over 10,000 Jews by Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.

The Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, which came to be known as the ‘Fort of Death’ during World War II, when it served for the murder of over 10,000 Jews by Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. (Shutterstock)

“These frauds are all the population knows, and having someone tell them that the national narrative is a fraudulent construct is disconcerting and not credible to them,” he argues. “They therefore, understandably, resist the facts. The government is unable to now admit the extent and deliberateness of their Holocaust frauds, so they decline to address facts. They cannot reject the case as the evidence is clear and overwhelming, so they continue on their path of distortion and aversion.”

‘It took me years to get psychologically ready to confront this’

Sylvia Foti (Courtesy)

Foti, however, shares Gochin’s determination that the truth will out. The two have been in contact since last year, when she informed him that, while most of his research was complete, he had missed many thousands of her grandfather’s victims.

Like Gochin, her involvement in the Lithuania lawsuit stems from researching her family history. As she originally detailed in a piece for Salon magazine last summer, Foti promised nearly 20 years ago that she would complete the biography of Norieka that her dying mother had been working on.

“I thought I would be writing about a hero because that is all I ever heard about him,” she suggests today.

But, on a visit in 2000 with her brother to the school named after Norieka in his birthplace, she was confronted with the first indication of a dark family secret. The headteacher let slip to his guests that he had “got a lot of grief” for deciding to name the school after an accused “Jew-killer.”

“My first reaction was disbelief and denial, that was just Communist propaganda,” Foti recalls.

Illustrative: A boy playing soccer at the entrance to the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, July 12, 2016. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“It took me years to get psychologically ready to confront this, as I was terrified of discovering that he was involved in killing Jews, so I delayed my investigation into the rumor,” she says.

Eventually, however, she began to uncover compelling evidence of her grandfather’s anti-Semitism. A book he had written in 1933 called “Raise Your Head Lithuanian” was, Foti says, “a rant against Jews, calling upon Lithuanians to boycott all Jewish businesses.” This and other facts deeply implicated him in the Holocaust.

Foti worked on her research during school holidays. In the summer of 2013, for instance, she spent seven weeks in Lithuania interviewing relatives, taking a Holocaust tour, and poring over documents from the period.

She also visited the Genocide Museum (recently renamed the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters) and interviewed its director.

“I found it odd that the Genocide Museum based its opinion of my grandfather solely from the KGB transcripts, which did not delve into his tenure as district chief of Šiauliai, but rather his rebellion against the Communists in 1945-46,” she argues. “The Genocide Museum discounted the documents my grandfather signed as district chief of Šiauliai during the Nazi occupation.”

In her piece for Salon, Foti also described how she hired a Holocaust guide who described to her how her grandfather, as a captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers “how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them. My grandfather was a master educator.”

Illustrative: The Jewish cemetery in Šiauliai, Lithuania. (screen capture: Google Street View)

“General Storm, as he is known, is a legend,” Foti suggests. “However, incredibly, Lithuania has been largely unaware of his willful role in the Holocaust. The reasons are psychologically and historically complicated, and it has taken me nearly two decades of research to figure it out.”

“As his granddaughter, it pains me to come to this conclusion,” she argues. “But it took me many years of grappling with denial. So, in this regard, I understand how difficult it is for Lithuanians to accept this. All we have heard is that we were the victims, caught between the Communists and the Nazis. For me, changing the narrative has changed my very identity. I have had to come to terms that I am the granddaughter of a perpetrator who has had his crimes covered up by the Lithuanian government.”

‘Changing the narrative has changed my very identity’

Foti recognizes that she and Gochin have become “unlikely partners — the granddaughter of a Holocaust perpetrator and the descendant of Holocaust victims.” The pair are, she believes, “on a mission to introduce truth to our ancestors’ homeland.”

“This is not the first time our families’ paths have converged: our independent research has shown that my grandfather was instrumental in the murder of Gochin’s Lithuanian relatives,” she adds.

But, Foti defiantly concludes, “The shame of my family is the national shame. I will not participate in insulting the Holocaust victims further by tolerating lies about my grandfather and his horrific actions. Deliberately distorting history brings added shame to Lithuania.”

Germany returns Nazi-looted painting to heirs of Jewish French resistance leader

Portrait belonging to family of Georges Mandel is among 1,500 found in possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer

The painting 'Portrait of a Seated Young Woman' by Thomas Couture stands on a easel during a restitution ceremony to the heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel in Berlin on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The painting ‘Portrait of a Seated Young Woman’ by Thomas Couture stands on a easel during a restitution ceremony to the heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel in Berlin on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN — Germany on Tuesday returned a painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of French Jewish politician and resistance leader Georges Mandel.

The portrait of a seated woman by 19th century French painter Thomas Couture had been on display in a spectacular collection hoarded by Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer.

Experts determined two years ago that the painting had been looted from Mandel, relying on a small hole in the canvas as evidence of its provenance.

Mandel’s lover had cited the hole above the seated woman’s torso when she reported the painting stolen after the war.

Gruetters was joined in the ceremony by a representative of the Kunstmuseum Bern, which inherited Gurlitt’s collection when he died in 2014, and an envoy from the French embassy.

Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Gruetters, right, overhands the painting ‘Portrait of a Seated Young Woman’ by Thomas Couture to Franz Rainer Wolfgang Joachim Kleinertz, left, and Maria de las Mercedes Estrada, second from left, heirs of Jewish French politician Georges Mandel, during a restitution ceremony in Berlin,on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

About 450 pieces from the collection by masters such as Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, and Picasso have been on display in Bern, the western German city of Bonn, and in Berlin.

Gruetters called the Couture painting’s return “a moving conclusion to the exhibitions of the Gurlitt trove” and underlined Berlin’s commitment to provenance research.

“We have Georges Mandel’s family to thank that we could show this work in all three exhibitions,” she said.

Georges Bonnet, left, the French Foreign Minister, left, and Georges Mandel, Colonial Minister, leaves the cabinet council at the Elysee in Paris, on April 12, 1939. (AP Photo)

“In this way, we could inform the public about the fate of the Jewish politician Georges Mandel, who was persecuted and imprisoned by the Nazis.”

More than 1,500 works were discovered in 2012 in the possession of Munich pensioner Cornelius Gurlitt.

His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis since 1938.

The discovery of the stash made headlines around the world and revived an emotional debate about how thoroughly post-war Germany had dealt with art plundered by the Nazi regime.

When Gurlitt died, the Berlin museum accepted the collection, though it left about 500 works in Germany for a government task force to research their often murky origins.

But determining their provenance has been slow, and it is still not clear how many of the works were stolen.

The Couture portrait was the fifth work from the collection returned to heirs, and the sixth definitively classed as having been looted by the Nazis.

Following protests, London mosque cancels planned Holocaust exhibition

(JTA) – Following protests by Muslims, a mosque in London dropped plans to host an exhibition on Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

The Centre for Islamic Understanding in Golders Green, which did not say why it cancelled the event, was due to hold the exhibition about Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews on Sunday.

It abandoned the plan after some Muslims protested the planned event’s links with Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, the Jewish News of London reported Friday.

Calls for a boycott were spearheaded by Roshan Salih, editor of the British Muslim news site 5 Pillars.

“Commemorations must never be done in conjunction with Israeli oppressors or their supporters,” he said. In response to the cancellation, he wrote that the mosque “is to be commended for responding to community concerns.”

Jews who helped community leaders at the mosque set up the exhibition had said prior to the cancellation that they saw the event as a significant moment in Jewish-Muslim relations in Golders Green, which is one of the United Kingdom’s most-heavily Jewish areas.

It’s “incredibly important to remember that Jewish and Muslim communities have always historically supported each other and will always continue to do so,” Rabbi Natan Levy, head of operations at the Faith Forums for London, which helped organized the cancelled event, told the Jewish News.

“By spending more time together and seeking to understand our commonalities and appreciate our differences we can provide a united front against hatred,” he added.

Australian neo-Nazis deface elderly care facility housing Holocaust survivors

Watchdog group says swastikas in Melbourne are latest anti-Semitic incident in growing ‘blitz of intimidation and fear’ targeting Jewish community

The swastika logo of Antipodean Resistance found on the front gates of Emmy Monash Aged Care in south-east Melbourne, Australia on January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

The swastika logo of Antipodean Resistance found on the front gates of Emmy Monash Aged Care in south-east Melbourne, Australia on January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

An Australian neo-Nazi group defaced an elderly care facility that homes Holocaust survivors, the latest incident in a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism targeting Melbourne’s Jewish community.

Stickers bearing the logo of homegrown hate group Antipodean Resistance were discovered plastered on the entrance to the Emmy Monash Aged Care facility, located in a heavily Jewish suburb of Caulfield, southeast of Melbourne.

“I saw it stuck to the front gates. I just stood there and looked — it knocked me about,” Seigel told Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper on Friday. “You don’t expect to see those sorts of things, especially at an aged-care residence.”

He said that many of the residents at the Emmy Monash facility were Holocaust survivors, and they would be “horrified” to learn of the Nazi symbol was daubed on the outside gates.
Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dr. Dvir Abramovich condemned the vandalism as “cowardly and evil.”

“We are appalled by this latest attack, made all the more despicable as there are Holocaust survivors living in this aged-care home who lost family relatives and suffered under Hitler’s regime,” Abramovich said in a statement.

Abramovich said the vandalism at Emmy Monash was part of a “blitz of intimidation and fear” by Antipodean Resistance which has been escalating its activities over the last year.

The statement from the ADC noted another incident of anti-Semitic vandalism in southeast Melbourne this week. A billboard advertising a production of the musical Les Miserables in the suburb of St. Kilda was defaced with the words: “Are Jews.. religious…or criminals?”

Anti-Semitic graffiti discovered on an advertisement for an upcoming production of Les Misérables in Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood in January 2019. (Anti-Defamation Commission)

Australia has seen the largest single-year increase of anti-Semitic attacks in 2018, the ADC said, and there was “mounting concerns” about the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in the country.

Antipodean Resistance was formed in Melbourne in 2016 to promote hatred and violence, mainly against Jews and the LGBT community. In recent months, the group has attracted attention for its anti-Semitic vandalism that has been spotted in major Australian cities.

Antipodean Resistance twice last year targeted New South Wales lawmaker Mike Kelly, whose wife is Jewish. In February the group hung a poster outside his office calling to “reject Jewish poison,” and in September, Antipodean Resistance mailed him pig entrails.

Holocaust survivors less healthy but outlive their peers by 7 years, study finds

Israeli researchers attribute ‘paradoxical’ findings to genetics and to resilience as a result of experiencing Nazi atrocities

Illustrative: Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors wear Tefilin and the Tallit prayer shawl as they participate in a group bar-mitzvah ceremony, normally done at the age of 13, on May 2, 2016, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Illustrative: Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors wear Tefilin and the Tallit prayer shawl as they participate in a group bar-mitzvah ceremony, normally done at the age of 13, on May 2, 2016, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Holocaust survivors in Israel outlive their peers by an average of seven years despite suffering from poorer overall health, according to a new Israeli study.

Lead researcher Dr. Gideon Cohen attributed the unexpected longevity among survivors to a combination of a genetic predisposition that helped them survive the Holocaust and certain resilience characteristics they developed as a result of experiencing Nazi atrocities. The study led by Cohen was published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Friday.

Those born in Europe who later immigrated to Israel were identified as “Holocaust survivors” for the purposes of the study, and included Jews who fled the Nazis, those placed in ghettos, as well as Jews who were sent to camps.

All of the participants in the study that spanned from 1998-2017 were insured by Maccabi Healthcare Services, one of Israel’s major health insurance providers with more than 2 million members. The researchers said they made adjustments for the participants’ sex, socio-economic status and body mass index.

Tova Ringer, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor, wins the “Miss Holocaust Survivor” beauty pageant in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, on October 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The researchers found that the Holocaust survivors suffered overall higher rates of chronic diseases — including cancer, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, obesity, chronic kidney disease and dementia — than the general population.

Some 83 percent of the Holocaust survivors involved in the study suffered from hypertension, compared with 66.7% of non-survivors. Another comparison found that 30.9% of survivors suffered from chronic kidney disease, while only 19.8% of the general population had the condition.

However, the data also revealed that Holocaust survivors in Israel lived to an average 84.8 years-old — over seven years longer than their peers who did not experience the Holocaust in some way, who have an average life expectancy of 77.7 years.

The researchers called their findings “paradoxical,” noting the extensive medical research linking chronic disease to lower life expectancy.

Cohen’s team suggested that survivors possessed a kind of “Darwinist ability to survive” — an inherent genetic resilience that helped them escape the Holocaust — which contributed to their overall longevity.

Holocaust survivors dance during a weekly social meeting at the Cafe Europa community and culture center in Ramat Gan, Israel, a day before Israel begins it annual Holocaust Memorial Day, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Researchers also suggested that as a result of the traumas they endured, Holocaust survivors developed better health literacy, and were more likely to seek pre-emptive medical treatment than their peers.

The team pointed to a 2016 study that found Holocaust survivors in Israel were twice as likely as non-survivors to consider “maintaining good health” as a coping strategy toward ensuring “the best possible life.”

How Hitler’s ‘fake news’ assault on America came perilously close to succeeding

In ‘Hitler’s American Friends,’ historian Bradley W. Hart reveals the extent to which US citizens aided, abetted, and otherwise supported Nazi Germany

Pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in 1939 (public domain)

Pro-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in 1939 (public domain)

Not only was president Franklin Roosevelt a war monger and closeted Jew, his real name was Rosenfeld. The war in Poland and Russia was entirely the fault of England, and the American press was bent on bringing the country into war against peaceful Germany. These allegations, according to a new book titled “Hitler’s American Friends,” were some of the key German propaganda messages spread by Nazi spies in the US during the late 1930s and into World War II.

Written by Bradley W. Hart and published in October, the book details Hitler’s “classic disinformation campaign” against the US, along with incidents of “outright espionage.”

Hitler was aware of support for National Socialism in the US, and this was the basis for his campaign. An alliance with America was unlikely, but German agents could — at the very least — work to confuse the American public about their government, the press, and other democratic institutions. Throughout the 1930s, Nazi spies operated on Capitol Hill, from church pulpits, and in front of massive crowds at rallies.

In 1937, Congress was compelled to enact the Foreign Agents Registration Act because so many Nazi spies had been caught seeking “to subvert the American democratic system,” wrote Hart. The foresight of the act’s authors helped ensure the American public wasn’t fed pro-Nazi “fake news” during the first two years of Germany’s “war of annihilation” in Europe, before Hitler declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor.

Screen capture from video showing American Nazis attacking Jewish protester Isador Greenbaum during a German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, February 1939. (YouTube/Field of Vision – A Night at the Garden)

“The American political system survived a series of major existential threats at a moment when the fate of the free world hung in the balance,” wrote Hart, a professor at California State University. With what he describes as “courageous” stands taken by American leaders, “Hitler’s friends never stood much of a chance,” he wrote.

‘Seemingly normal Americans’

“Hitler’s American Friends” opens with celebrity pilot Charles Lindbergh delivering an anti-Jewish speech in September of 1941. Blaming Germany’s Jews for Europe’s latest war, Lindbergh also found fault with his fellow American citizens of Jewish origin.

(courtesy)

“Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences,” said Lindbergh. The Jews’ “greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

According to Hart’s book, Lindbergh was “the man who had come [closest] to uniting the American far right” in forming an alliance with Nazi Germany. As such, the pilot’s speech made headlines around the nation.

However, most of Hitler’s American allies were found among the masses. A leading pro-Nazi fascist movement in the US, the Silver Legion, boasted 15,000 members, modeling itself on Mussolini’s Brown Shirts in Italy. In sum, a hundred men and women were eventually convicted of spying for the Nazis, and six “saboteurs” were executed.

Among the American public at large, a 1941 Fortune magazine poll revealed that 13 million Americans would not mind deporting Jews from the country — under humane conditions, of course. Few Americans, however, supported the murder of all Jewish men, women, and children, which US newspapers confirmed was taking place in Europe by the end of 1941.

Author Bradley W. Hart (author)

More mainstream than the Silver Legion was the German American Bund, a network of 25,000 pro-Nazi activists. The Bund established training camps and strongholds throughout the country, and its leaders insisted that Roosevelt was Jewish. The group pioneered the merging of Nazi German symbols with American ones, including portraits of George Washington.

Although Congress and public opinion saw to the dismantlement of most pro-Nazi organizations, it should not be assumed that support for Nazism itself was dismantled, said Hart.

“One of the more disturbing things I realized writing this book was that the people who were members of anti-Semitic groups like the German American Bund or the Silver Legion didn’t just disappear in 1945,” Hart told The Times of Israel.

“Most of them probably lived for decades as seemingly normal Americans, but we don’t really know much about what they taught their children or talked about at home in those later years,” he said.

Flirting with Nazism?

When Hart began work on “Hitler’s American Friends” in 2014, some people he told about the project said it sounded obscure and unlikely to succeed as a book. Current events, however, had something else to say.

“Once [President Donald] Trump emerged and the far right started coming out of the woodwork again, the connections to contemporary politics became much more obvious,” said Hart in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Hart noted that Trump has deployed tactics that echo back to the pro-Nazi “America First” movement. A modern iteration of the Roosevelt/Rosenfeld rumor was the co-called “birther” campaign against president Barack Obama, a movement that was ignited by then-citizen Trump.

In this August 11, 2017, photo, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

For Hart, last year’s “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, was eerily reminiscent of the country’s repressed, pro-Nazi past. The torches, the marching, and the blending of white supremacist symbols with American imagery were pioneered eight decades ago, before most Americans understood the threat Hitler posed.

“It was really a strange experience to be researching these groups and individuals from the 1930s when suddenly there were people in contemporary America using terms like ‘America First’ and flags with swastikas being carried in the streets of Charlottesville,” said Hart.

During the 1930s, supporters of Nazism did anything but stay in the closet. There were marches on Main Streets around the country and frequent incitement against Jews, blacks, and other minorities. Today, much of this organizing still takes place, but on different platforms, said Hart.

In this October 29, 2018, photo, a makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh. (AP/Matt Rourke)

“The internet has sadly created an environment where radicalism can flourish without much oversight and few social or professional consequences for those who are spreading hate anonymously,” said Hart. “We only need to look at Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman, to see an example of a person who self-radicalized on the darker corners of the web and turned that into real-world violence.”

According to Hart, some contemporary politicians — including Trump — are reluctant to denounce hate speech with vigor or consistency. Part of their motivation for failing to do so, said Hart, is that “they see an electoral advantage in keeping these extremists politically engaged and on their side,” he said.

“I certainly do not think American conservatives are deliberately flirting with Nazism, but I do think it’s important that both parties actively consider the supporters they are attracting and cultivating, and what that means for their respective parties’ futures,” said Hart.

Nelly Ben-Or risked all to play the piano. It helped her survive the Holocaust.

That discipline helped Ben-Or, 86, became an international concert pianist and the person most widely recognized for adapting the Alexander technique for posture and movement improvement for musicians.

But unlike most of her peers, much of Ben-Or’s musical training in her native Poland took place while her family was hiding in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, where her mother, Antonina Podhoretz, time and again risked everything to afford her daughter access to the then scarce instrument.

Ben-Or, who now lives in London and still teaches master classes in piano and the Alexander technique, unfolds the story of her unlikely survival in an English-language autobiography that was published this year titled “Ashes to Light: A Holocaust Childhood to a Life in Music.”

The frank and short account tackles personal issues like the author’s bouts of depression and her unprovoked cruelty toward one of her music teachers after the war. It was celebrated as a “brilliant and deeply moving personal account” by Jonathan Vaughan, a director of the prestigious Guildhall School of Drama & Music.

Rabbi Andrew Goldstein, the president of Britain’s Liberal Judaism movement, called it “an inspiring story, beautifully written” in a forward he penned for the book.

The strength of Ben-Or’s story, which was featured on the BBC World Service radio in July, stems partly from the author bearing witness to momentous wartime events, including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But its uniqueness lies in how it marries opposites, such as betrayal and heroism, hunger and artistic creativity, and survival and self-sacrifice.

Throughout the packed 180-page narrative, one character — the piano — makes repeated and unlikely appearances.

The instrument features in Ben-Or’s earliest memories, from her childhood home in Lwow, which was part of Poland before World War II, now Lviv in Ukraine. She recalls that at 6, German soldiers carried off the piano on which she had practiced in her family’s living room.

“I shivered in fear and despair, huddled against my mother’s body as I watched them taking away the instrument which had become for me such a wonderful source of magic,” Ben-Or writes.

Her family was about to lose much more than their prized possessions.

Ben-Or’s father, Leon, was taken away and, she later learned, killed at the Janowska concentration camp.

Her mother and older sister were able to obtain false “Aryan” identities, but they became homeless, exchanging one hiding place for another. Her sister was left to hide on her own. Ben-Or and her mother scrambled to leave Lwow for Warsaw, where they had a better chance of surviving.

Through one of many twists of fate, the pair missed the last train to Warsaw. They ended up leaving as hitchhikers aboard a military train full of Nazi SS officers. One SS man even tucked in Ben-Or with his green army coat when she feigned sleep on the long journey, she recalls in the book.

That civilian train they missed ended up being searched. Several Jews traveling under false identities were caught and sent to be murdered, Ben-Or’s mother later learned.

In Warsaw, mother and daughter became subtenants of a Polish working class family, the Topolskis. Their hosts quickly caught on that Ben-Or and her mother were Jewish but, at great personal risk, did not report them. Still, neighbors became suspicious, forcing the two Jews to seek a new hiding place. Ben-Or’s mother found employment as a maid with a wealthier non-Jewish Polish family, the Kowalskis.

That’s where Nelly, then 7 or 8, again saw a piano.

“My desire to get to that instrument and play it made me nag my mother” to ask the Kowalskis for permission to play, Ben-Or writes. But doing so would have blown their cover as a working class maid and her daughter, her mother feared.

“Musical gifts were so often associated with the Jewish people,” Ben-Or writes.

But “a part of my mother wanted me to keep playing,” Ben-Or told JTA in an interview at her home near London, where she keeps two pianos in a study full of books and orchid plants. Antonina relented, but only on the condition that Nelly pretend not to know how to play, recalled Ben-Or, a frail-looking woman with lively eyes.

At the height of World War II, when the Nazis were hunting and executing people on the streets just below her home, Ben-Or was playing music on a grand piano that brought her brief hope of normalcy.

Noticing her talent, the Kowalskis suggested that Ben-Or join their granddaughter’s weekly piano lessons, to which her mother reluctantly agreed. The teacher suggested that Ben-Or attend a music school, but Antonina vetoed it.

“The fewer people who noticed me, or you, the safer we were,” Ben-Or’s mother told her.

As a little girl, “playing the piano for chosen periods in the day became moments of paradise on Earth,” Ben-Or recalls. The teacher insisted that Nelly play at a students’ concert, and she was was allowed to play, becoming the talk of the block for a while.

But her mother’s fears turned out to be justified. Soon after the concert, rumors that Antonina and Nelly were “not who they pretended to be” started circulating among the neighbors, forcing the two to leave yet another hiding place, Ben-Or writes.

They were rounded up in German army operations targeting Warsaw citizens who had joined a massive resistance operation that followed the doomed uprising of Jews inside the Warsaw Ghetto.

In yet another narrow escape, Nelly and Antonina eventually were released in the countryside because the concentration camp where the Germans had planned to place them was full. Penniless and hungry for food, the two found shelter in a pig sty that locals had made livable for refugees like them from Warsaw.

But even there, “my ear caught the sound of piano from a neighboring house,” Ben-Or writes in her book. It was the home of the piano teacher in the town of Pruszkow, and again Ben-Or’s mother reluctantly allowed her daughter to play. The teacher allotted the girl half an hour each day.

“I went on eagerly from one piece of music to the next, playing anything that was available,” including Johann Strauss waltzes considered too demanding for 8-year-old piano pupils, Ben-Or writes.

“Yet today, as a concert pianist, I am convinced that I owe to that unorthodox but invaluable experience of piano playing,” she writes. It helped her hold on to her humanity and hopefulness in hours of despair and panic, she says.

After the war, Ben-Or was enrolled in a school for gifted musicians. She and her mother emigrated from Poland to Israel in 1950. A decade later, Ben-Or went to study in England and stayed. She married in 1964. She and her husband have a daughter who lives in London.

The book describes her development as an artist and her experiences as a survivor in three countries.

“It seems as if my voracious appetite for academic and musical progress was partly a reaction to the years of repression,” Ben-Or writes. “It was as if the darkness of the war years had been lifted, and the bright light and fresh air of freedom filled my whole being with the need to receive as much as possible of all that I had missed before.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/12/31/global/nelly-ben-or-risked-all-to-play-the-piano-it-helped-her-survive-the-holocaust

The man who got justice for the girl in the red coat

By Elie Honig

A child's red coat fading from her father's view is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

A child’s red coat fading from her father’s view is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, is a CNN legal analyst and a Rutgers University scholar. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)Fifty-seven years later, Gabriel Bach still pauses to compose himself when he tells the story of the girl in the red coat. Bach took time to speak with me last week about his experience as one of three Israeli prosecutors who tried the notorious Nazi logistics director Adolf Eichmann for war crimes in Jerusalem in 1961.

Bach, now 91, still remembers the testimony of one particular Holocaust survivor. Responding to Bach’s questioning, the survivor, Dr. Martin Foldi, described how he was transported in a cattle car from Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944 with his wife, son and daughter. Upon arrival, two lines formed. A Nazi guard signaled for Foldi to go right and Foldi’s wife, son and daughter to go left.
Foldi had recently bought a red coat for his daughter, who was 2½ years old. When Foldi looked up a few moments after being separated from his family, he could no longer see his wife or son in the distance. But, Bach recalls, Foldi testified he could see “that little red dot getting smaller and smaller — this is how my family disappeared from my life.”
CNN legal analyst Elie Honig interviews retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach in Jerusalem.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig interviews retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach in Jerusalem.

Like any good prosecutor, Bach tried to maintain an unflappable demeanor. However, even in a trial recounting countless colossal horrors, Bach said the testimony about the red coat was the “only minute of the trial … I suddenly couldn’t utter a sound.” Aware that the judges were waiting for him to continue and that television cameras were rolling, Bach pretended to shuffle papers on his desk to allow himself a moment to recover.
Bach’s life story is particularly relevant today given the rising tide of ethnic and racial intolerance— and extremist attacks borne of such hatred — in the United States and across the globe. More than five decades ago, as the whole world watched, Bach faced down Eichmann, an infamous Nazi officer who perpetrated genocide on a nearly unthinkable scale, in a courtroom in Israel. The lessons from the Eichmann trial — about the rule of law, the quest for justice and the dangers posed by ethnic hatred — still resonate today.
Eichmann was known as the “architect” of the Holocaust because he was responsible for identifying, gathering and transporting millions of Jews and others to concentration camps across Europe. Bach refers to Eichmann as the “director of the Holocaust” because of his central role in planning and carrying out the execution of millions of innocents.

Prosecuting the architect of the Holocaust

American forces captured Eichmann at the end of World War II, but he escaped from a prison camp in 1946. He remained in hiding while an international manhunt ensued. Fourteen years after Eichmann’s escape, Israeli intelligence agents captured him in Argentina in 1960 (as depicted in several books and movies, including 2018’s “Operation Finale“) and then transported him to Jerusalem for trial.
The trial began in April 1961. Bach led the prosecution team’s investigation, gathering witnesses, documents, film and other evidence from around the globe. He presented testimony from numerous witnesses, including survivors with remarkable stories; one had been a young child who was let out of a locked gas chamber just before execution to help unload a delivery of potatoes that had arrived at the camp. Bach felt it was important that the court hear from at least one survivor from every Nazi-occupied country.
Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust's "architect," goes on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 after Israel captured him.

Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust’s “architect,” goes on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 after Israel captured him.

Over four months, the world watched as Bach and his colleagues methodically laid out the proof of Eichmann’s crimes. During the trial, Eichmann sat inside a bulletproof glass box. Bach sat just feet away at counsel’s table. Bach recalls that, throughout the trial, Eichmann was stoic and unemotional.
Eichmann and his court-appointed attorney maintained during the trial that he merely followed orders from his Nazi superiors. Hannah Arendt, who covered the trial for The New Yorker, later contended in her controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that Eichmann embodied the “banality of evil.” Arendt wrote, “Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth. … Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. … He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing.”
Bach responds to Arendt’s conclusion first with visceral disgust — he calls her view “rubbish” — and then with the methodical precision of a skilled prosecutor. Bach notes that Eichmann declared after the Holocaust (but before the 1961 trial) that he regretted not having done more to kill Jews. Bach then reels off examples where Eichmann took pains to prevent any person from being spared or shown mercy.
In one instance, a German general requested that a French Jewish man who was an expert in radar technology be spared so his knowledge could be utilized; Eichmann rejected the request and ordered the man deported to a concentration camp. Bach also notes that Eichmann believed it was imperative to kill children, to prevent the maturation of future generations of Jews. Arendt can have her theorizing; Bach is secure resting on the hard facts.
Eichmann stands in a protective glass booth flanked by Israeli police during his 1961 war crimes trial.

Eichmann stands in a protective glass booth flanked by Israeli police during his 1961 war crimes trial.

At the end of the trial, a three-judge panel convicted Eichmann of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offenses, and sentenced him to death. Eichmann appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, where Bach successfully defended the verdict and sentence. Eichmann was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962. Bach was offered the opportunity to witness the execution but declined.
Bach does not seek to cast himself in an angelic glow, candidly acknowledging that “I was so much full of hatred for this man (Eichmann).” Bach takes pride, however, that despite the intense emotion surrounding the case, Eichmann was tried in accordance with established rule of law and principles of fairness. Bach, who tried many cases as prosecutor and defense attorney before the Eichmann trial, notes that “we wanted to handle this case like we handled any other case.”
Indeed, Eichmann, the most notorious of all criminals, was afforded the same rights as other defendants in Israel at the time (which also are familiar to the American criminal justice system): the right to competent defense counsel, paid for by the state; the right to see the evidence against him in advance; the right to evidence that might be helpful to the defense; the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and to call his own witnesses; and the right to appeal. Bach understood that “it was important for history’s sake that every point of legal decency had to be followed.”

‘Always sort of just one step ahead’

At 91, Bach sees that he has lived an almost impossibly charmed life. Bach grew up in Berlin, where he attended the 1936 Olympics and sat so close to Adolf Hitler that he says he saw Hitler leave his private box in anger after Jesse Owens sprinted to a gold medal. Bach’s Jewish family fled from Germany for the Netherlands just weeks before Kristallnacht — when the rising Nazi party destroyed Jewish homes and properties and killed dozens of German Jews — in November 1938.
His family then left the Netherlands one month before the Nazis invaded in 1940 and moved to the territory that would later become Israel. Bach was bar mitzvahed while in transit, on board the ship Patria — which, on its next journey, was sunk by a bomb placed on board by Zionists — claiming the lives of more than 250 people. Bach reflects that he and his family were “always sort of just one step ahead.”
Bach holds a photo as he tours the 2011 exhibit "Facing Justice -- Adolf Eichmann on Trial" in Berlin.

Bach holds a photo as he tours the 2011 exhibit “Facing Justice — Adolf Eichmann on Trial” in Berlin.

After the Eichmann trial, Bach went on to a distinguished legal career, including 15 years as a justice on the Israeli Supreme Court. He now lives a quiet, happy life with his wife in Jerusalem. They have three grown children (one of whom has passed) and eight grandchildren. In his advanced age, Bach still has a sparkle in his eye, an easy laugh and a natural warmth. He has a steel trap memory for the details of the Eichmann trial and a deep faith in and respect for the rule of law.
Bach has spoken about his life and the Eichmann trial countless times on five continents, in countries as disparate as Brazil, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines. He has spoken many times in Germany, including in Berlin at the Parliament, where he was moved by the warm reception he received. In Israel, he is a national hero and was greeted at a recent speaking appearance with a thunderous standing ovation from a sellout crowd.

While many people look to Bach for inspiration, he does not purport to have an easy answer to the growing hatein the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Nor can he fathom why so many people know little or nothingabout the Holocaust or doubt that it ever happened.

He does, however, hold out hope that the Eichmann trial will stand through history as an unambiguous condemnation of ethnic hatred and violence. “The fact that this terrible thing happened should never be forgotten,” Bach says. “And everything should be done to teach young people and older people to prevent something like that from happening in the future. That is my hope.”