The World Jewish Congress Launches an International Campaign for Ustasha in Croatia

Photo: Hina / Wikipedia

MENACHEM Z. Rosensaft is an American lawyer and activist of Jewish origin who was born in 1948 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany. His parents succeeded in surviving Nazi death camps, which significantly determined their later social and political engagement in the United States as well as their son’s engagement.

Rosensaft is a long-time activist about Holocaust memories, was a close associate of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a longtime member of the US Holocaust Remembrance Council, a participant in the peace process between Israel and Palestine and a law professor at prestigious US universities. 

This distinguished Jewish Jew is also the chief advisor to the World Jewish Congress(WJC), an organization founded in 1936, which today represents Jewish communities and more than a hundred world countries, including Croatia. The WJC mission is, amongst other things, defending the rights and interests of Jewish communities and Jews around the world, helping to ensure their security, advocating their interests to governments and international organizations, promoting inter-religious dialogue, preserving holocaust memories, etc. The WJC President is Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, and the principal director is Robert Singer who visited Croatia this May.

But the concrete occasion for an interview with Menecham Z. Rosenswood was an article recently published on the influential US-Jewish Tablet, warning that “Croatia is trying to hide its Holocaust crimes”. In an exclusive interview for Index Rosensaft, he announced that the World Jewish Congress is organizing an international campaign to deal with the situation in Croatia and the fascism of the society that some warn, while others are denying.

What triggered your interest in the situation in Croatia when it comes to the revisionism curve you wrote for the Tablet portal?

In fact, long before I focused on the current revisionism about the Holocaust in Croatia, I became sensitive to the most unknown history of persecution and mass murder of Jews, Serbs and Roma in NDH during the Second World War. Many years ago, as I was researching collaborators and participants in the Holocaust who were not Germans, I ran into the notorious Br. Tomislav Filipovic, known as Fr. Satan, the Croatian Franciscan who was one of the greatest sadists in Jasenovac. His aversion and cruelty to me are similar to those of SS’s doctor Josef Mengele in Auschwitz and the commander in Plaszowo Amon Goethe, that is, the clear personalizations of absolute evil. When I ran into Fr. Tomislav Filipovic, I wanted to find out more about the Ustashas.

After that, my wife and I became friends with Tamar Rothmueller Hirschl, a talented painter who was born in Croatia and whose father was murdered in Jasenovac. She as a child survived the Holocaust in Zagreb hiding behind her mother. Tamar described the anti-Semitism of Ustasha as he saw and experienced it during and after the war.

As far as the latest events are concerned, I am deeply impressed by the courage of the Croatian Jewish community who refused to participate in the previous two governmental Holocaust commemorations because of the failure to take a strong stand against historical revisionism and the re-emergence of Ustashas in Croatia.

It is significant that you do not treat Croatia as an exception to the rule, but as part of a wider trend in Eastern Europe. How do you explain the rise of historic revisionism in the new Eastern European Union?

Revisionism around the Holocaust has become a deeply disturbing by-product of the general upsurge of neo-fascist, if not neo-Nazi movements across Europe. The trend started with the Jobbik party in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, but we see it alike in strong electoral support given by AfD in Germany, the National Front Marine Le Pen in France and the Free Party in Austria.

Most of the time, through the seven decades since the Second World War, the extreme right-wing political movements with their ultranationalist and xenophobic ideologies remained on the political margins of their own countries. Over the years, they have come out of the shadows and want to be accepted as legitimate political forces. Given that mass murderers do not have a good reputation, these movements and parties want to release their historical roles as participants, or in the case of Ustasha, active protagonists in genocide and other atrocities that took place during World War II. To achieve this, they either accept, glorify, and replicate the discriminatory attitude of their ideological predecessors or deny that they are ultranationalists. Or simply distort, diminish or trivialize historical facts.

When it comes to Croatia, it must be emphasized that Ustashas, ​​that their modern observers are not part of the government, and are at present not significant political forces. Today’s Croatian government is far from being described as reactionary or neo-fascist. On the other hand, the key problem is that the Croatian authorities show reluctance to be convincing – the emphasis is on “convincing” – condemning all those who glorify and reincarnate. The unavoidable consequence of approving or disregarding ultranationalist sentiments is often very rough revisionism about the Holocaust, not necessarily because of open anti-Semitism, but as a way of storing the historical image of the Ustasha.

How is Croatia perceived among American Jews? Is there a world about the problem of revisionism in Croatia?

Most Americans, not only American Jews, know relatively little about Croatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and the little they know is largely related to the wars and crimes of the 1990s. It is probably the same thing for most countries outside the Balkans. Most well-educated people do not know about the Nazi ally of the NDH who founded the Fascist Ustasha and headed by Ante Pavelic, in which hundreds of thousands of Serbs, tens of thousands of Jews and Roma were killed. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and Babi Jar have become the symbols of the Holocaust, but a small number of people know about Jasenovac, as well as being one of the worst centers of killing in the Second World War. Jasenovac deserves the reputation of “Auschwitza Balkana”.

It is critical that the international community understands how the holocaust was conducted throughout Europe under Nazi occupation and in most of the countries that stood side by side of Nazi Germany and that the Germans were not the only perpetrators of genocide in the Second World War. Institutions such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington and Yas Washema in Jerusalem have launched significant educational initiatives in this respect. Personally, I chaired the Holocaust Museum’s presidency committee in the nineties with the success of recommending that Jasenovac be included among the most important death camps in the Second World War in the Museum of Memory Hall.

You have written that the Croatian Jewish Community should receive more international support in this ruling political climate in Croatia. Do you intend to put this topic on the agenda of the World Jewish Congress?

We are already in the process of organizing an international campaign that will draw attention to revisionism about the Holocaust in Croatia and on the attempt to rehabilitate the Ustasha. The purpose of this campaign is not to attack Croatia, but to the contrary – to help Croatians recognize the dark period of their history and adequately recognize and mark the memory of the Jasenovac victims and other Ustasha concentration camps.

Croatian nationalists will undoubtedly accuse you of being “anti-Croatian” and “hating all Croats” because you have written critically about the Ustashas and what is happening in Croatia. How do you answer that?

The only purpose of writing this article was to promote the historical truth. I have nothing against Croatia or Croats. Conversely, Croatia is a beautiful country with a proud history, and we especially appreciate the strong bilateral relations between Croatia and Israel. At the same time, we condemn and reject and call on all authorities and decent people everywhere not only to condemn the distortion and denial of crimes and murders committed during the Holocaust, but also to categorically reject those responsible for those crimes against humanity. There are German Nazis in this category, from Hitler to the SS who have led the concentration camps and death camps. This is also the French police who had fired and deported Jews from France under Nazi occupation to Auschwitz and other killing centers. These are also Nazi collaborators in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia,

Our goal is to bring together Jews and Croats. However, this can only be achieved if the Croatian authorities as well as the Croatian society as a whole condemn any new phenomenon of hatred filled with extremism from the past and ensure the memory and commemoration of all those killed by the hand of the Ustasha.

If you would be able to advise the Croatian government on these topics, what would you say to them? What can Croatia do better when it comes to the dark sides of its national history?

I would encourage Croatian authorities to form an international commission composed of prominent historians who would, with expert authority, produce a report on events in Croatia during the Holocaust and to reside after these findings, regardless of the potential political consequences. It is critical that such a committee includes representatives of all relevant stakeholders, including the Croatian Jewish community, as well as representatives or descendants of other ethnic groups who were Ustasha victims. I would also advise to launch educational programs at all levels, from high schools through universities to social groups of all faiths and nationalities, concerning the crimes against humanity committed by the Ustasha on behalf of the Croatian people. We urge them not to trivialize and minimize the role of Ustasha in the Second World War,

It is interesting to point out that the campaign against Tito and Partisans is being used to rehabilitate their enemies in World War II. What do you think about the narrative that the Nazi and Ustasha regime is actually the same as the communist regime in Yugoslavia? Advocates of this narrative claim that NDH and Tito of Yugoslavia were “totalitarian regimes” …

We do not defend Tito’s regime nor any communist regime of the accusations that they were, as you say, “totalitarian” and that they violated civil and human rights. But that is far from committing genocide. Ustashas killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma. Already this fact places their radicality in the second category. Throughout Eastern and Central Europe there are aspirations to equalize both Nazism and Communism. But the fact is that the charges you can put on the account of communist regimes are not nearly as terrible as the crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany with its participants. Also, we must never forget that the Communists and Partisans who led Tito have saved and protected many Jews and others who should become Nazi and Ustasha victims.

You have a fascinating life story, and your parents have survived the Holocaust. How did this affect your public engagement and topics that became important to you?

My parents were special because they did not allow the Germans to dehumanize them. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, my mother used her medical knowledge to save the Jews from the gas chambers, and in Bergen-Belsen, with a group of other prisoners, she managed to sustain 149 Jewish children during the brutal winter of 1945 and in the midst of a terrible typhus epidemic. After the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, my father became the leader of the survivors and continued to play the role of the next five years during which Bergen-Belsen became the largest refugee center in Germany. My parents met immediately after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, fell in love, married and I was born in May 1948. They were never filled with bitterness, but always looked forward, with much sympathy and empathy. I have learned from them that helping others is a duty and not a burden.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was an important person in your life. How did he affect your philosophy of holocaust memories? 

Wiesel was my mentor, teacher, and above all, one of my closest friends over fifty years. One of his greatest accomplishments is that the human consciousness has built not only the memory of the Holocaust, but also its human dimension. He has taught me that all victims of genocide and crimes against humanity deserve to remember them not only as abstract figures, but as people who were alive. For him the most important lessons of the Holocaust were the need to fight against all forms of intolerance, xenophobia and hate, and that silence is not an option.

You submit to the law of genocide at Columbia University in New York. What is that? As you know, genocide in the NDH was conducted in accordance with the declared racial laws. How do you explain the need to codify the rules for genocide? 

The law of genocide is a newer legal discipline, as is the development of international laws concerning crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity became important for the first time in August 1945, in the charter of the International Military Tribunal, which met in Nuremberg in 1945-1946. At that time, US Supreme Court judge Robert H. Jackson, who was chief prosecutor in Nuremberg, clearly expressed the view that mass murders and mass crimes have violated the principles of international law and before the charge of “crimes against humanity” was formulated, the Accused they knew it.

Equally important is the conclusion made in 1946 by Gustav Radbruch, German legal expert and justice minister in the early years of the Weimar Republic. He says the discriminatory laws of the Third Reich were invalid from their conception. According to Radbruch, “the character of the law is missing in all those regulations that human beings treated when they were not human beings and denying their human rights.” Radbruch’s view was that all such regulations – including the racial laws of NDH – were “examples of legitimate injustice” and hence void from the beginning.

In other words, the authors of all racial laws from the 1930s and 1940s in Germany, France, or Croatia knew that these laws violated the basic principles of international law, and all those who implemented these laws knew the same.

Efraim Zuroff is a well-known public in the Jewish community, and he was also quite critical of what is happening in Croatia. But there is one topic around which two of you are strongly disagreeable, and that is Srebrenica. Can you explain what difference is between Zuroff and you? 

I have great respect for Efraim Zuroff and Simon Wiesenthal Center. It is also important to point out that Zuroff does not deny the killing of about eight thousand Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, men and boys aged between 12 and 77, and consider it a terrible crime and a crime against humanity. We do not agree that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide or not. Zuroff thinks he is not, I’m convinced that a genocide happened in Srebrenica.

Genocide is not an abstract and flexible philosophical concept, but rather a fairly narrowly defined legal term that was codified in the 1948 UN Charter on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide as killing members of a group with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, that national, ethnic, racial or religious group when such “. The International Court of Justice in 2007 ruled that “the crimes committed in Srebrenica were committed with the specific intent to destroy a partial group of Muslims in BiH, and as such crimes represented genocide.” There are also various judgments of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that came to the same conclusion. These court judgments are unquestionable and final.

Above all, I am convinced that we must also take into account the moral dimension. My five year-old brother, my mother’s son, and my grandfathers were killed in genocide that was the Holocaust. The perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre are no better than the SS’s who are my brothers and grandparents and grandmothers in the gas chambers.

As a lecturer at Columbia and Cornell a few years ago I had a student Adisad Dudić, who spent three years as a child in a Bosnian refugee camp with her mother and sister. In one work for my subject, she described this experience: “My homeland was destroyed, my family members were scattered around the world, thousands of Bosnian women and girls were raped and abused, thousands of Bosnian men and boys were tortured in concubines and buried in mass tombs, many people were killed by the enemies who wanted to reach every person who was identified as a Bosnian Muslim. ”

I am convinced that it is against conscience and unacceptable that someone tells my student Adisad that the horrors committed against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica were not genocide, as it would be terrible for someone to deny the genocide in which my brother, my grandparents and millions were killed other European Jews were exterminated.



October 20 Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
 It’s amazing to see how genealogy can change lives for the better.

Special Q & A with directors @6:30 screening Saturday 10.21

Alon Schwarz and Shaul Schwarz
A web of family secrets unravels in this moving documentary following a family fractured by war. Two brothers, Izak and Shep, were born inside the BergenBelsen displaced persons camp in 1945 and separated as babies, never told of the other’s existence.
Nearly 70 years later, the discovery of family records leads the brothers to an emotional reunion with their elderly mother, Aida, who hid more from Izak and Shep than just each other.

The Nazi Sites of Los Angeles

A walking tour of where the Fascists and Hitlerites gathered in California.


The first Nazi rally in Los Angeles took place in the summer of 1933, a few months into Adolph Hitler’s chancellorship, at a downtown biergarten nicknamed the Brown House, after the Nazi Party’s offices in Munich. It was here (now an America’s Best Value Inn) that the Jewish spymaster known as L1 sent his first undercover operatives, a husband-and-wife team of Christian German émigrés, with instructions to infiltrate the Fascist underground.

“Today people are marching and saying, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ” Steve Ross, the author of a forthcoming book, “Hitler in Los Angeles,” which documents the rise of anti-Semitic hate groups and a covert Jewish-led resistance, said the other day. “In the thirties, they’re saying, ‘Kill the Jews.’ All it takes is one crazy person. People say, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but it is happening here. Once you have the Fascist takeover of the government, all the other things can happen.”

L1 was Leon Lewis, an unassuming lawyer who had served in the First World War and helped found the Anti-Defamation League. The Nazis called him “the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles.” He worked independently; the F.B.I. focussed its scant resources on the Communist threat, and many on the city’s police force were Klansmen or American Fascists, or at least sympathetic to the anti-Jewish attitudes of the Hitlerites. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, Lewis’s agents had disrupted elaborate efforts to spread Nazi ideology in the United States, revealed fifth columnists and saboteurs inside the Douglas aircraft plant, and foiled two murder plots whose targets included not only the spymaster but also Jack Benny, Samuel Goldwyn, Charlie Chaplin, and Louis B. Mayer. “The Nazis saw L.A. as more important than Jew York, as they called it,” Ross said. “La Guardia, who was half Jewish, had the ports closely watched, whereas in L.A. they were able to bring in propaganda, money, everything they wanted, without a worry.”

Los Angeles locations used by Nazis, Fascists, and the spies who worked against them. Cartography by Steven J. Ross and Philip Ethington / Illustration by Mike Glier

Ross, an effusive professor in his sixties, was standing in the lobby of the Roosevelt, an imposing building downtown carved into apartments owned by professional athletes and millennials, where Lewis had his law office in the thirties and forties. “This was spy central!” he said. The Nazis and Fascists, knowing that Lewis had agents inside their organizations, posted their own outside the Roosevelt. He pointed toward other buildings, some extant, some ghosts. “Fascist, Fascist, Nazi, Klan,” he said. “He was surrounded.”

Ross has dedicated his book to his mother and his late father, both of whom survived the Holocaust, and to his in-laws, who fled. At Dachau, an acquaintance told his father to volunteer for the bakery: he’d always be warm and fed, and he would live. After the war, in New York, Ross’s father started a bakery with another survivor; they supplied strudel and Russian coffee cake to Balducci’s and Zabar’s. “I have come full circle, wondering how could Jews have let this happen? How could they have been so complacent? But they weren’t. The government was complacent!” Ross said.

 Los Angeles’s Nazis and Fascists, some of whom were taking orders directly from Hitler and Goebbels, were preparing for what they saw as an inevitable Nazi take-over of the United States. Anticipating that day, Norman and Winona Stephens bought a fifty-acre piece of land above the Pacific Palisades, and started to build a fortress that would serve as Hitler’s West Coast White House, halfway between Tokyo and Berlin. “This was going to be the equivalent of San Clemente for Nixon, or Mar-a-Lago, only more convenient,” Ross said.

Another day, Ross hiked up a fire road leading toward the Nazi ruins. He found a gap in the fence, and began to descend a steep concrete staircase. “This is a lo-o-o-ng trip down,” he said.

Inside the compound, Ross led the way to a dazzling spray-painted building, the remains of a powerhouse. Catching sight of a “Fuck Trump” tag, he said, “Quite the opposite of Nazis!” The Stephenses, who spent some seventy million dollars in today’s money on the project, installed, in addition to generators, a huge water tank, a diesel fuel tank, and a meat locker, and erected a stable. Plans included meeting rooms, twenty-two bedrooms, and a pool: a luxurious and private place for Nazis to make war plans. “They were going to have a totally self-sustaining compound,” Ross said. Lewis’s spies warned him that there were Nazis in the hills, coaching sympathizers in marksmanship, urban warfare, and hand-to-hand combat. (Members of a clandestine Storm Trooper unit insisted that their militia-training exercises were a Sportabteilung, a club devoted to hiking and drilling for parades.)

“Hitler was hoping first to conquer more of Europe, and then turn his eyes to America,” Ross said. “If Japan had not bombed Pearl Harbor, we would have remained neutral a lot longer. The thinking was, by the time America woke up it would have been too late.”




Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inaugurated National Holocaust Memorial, but the apology is still forthcoming.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau visits Auschwitz. photo credit AUSCHWITZ MEMORIAL TWITTER

The Liberal party of Canada, headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is working on an apology for the Canadian 1939 decision to turn away a boat full of German-Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Global News reported on Wednesday.

Despite hopes that Trudeau would address the issue during the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument, he chose not to do so, focusing instead on Jewish refugees from Europe who built their lives in Canada after World War II and warning against hatred and tyranny.

The MS St. Louis was turned away from Cuba and the United States before Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, a conservative, decided against allowing the ship to dock in Halifax. The ship was forced to return to Europe. While some passengers were accepted as refugees by France, the UK, Belgium and Holland, 500 found themselves under Hitler’s thumb. Around half of them perished in the Holocaust.

In a June interview with The New York Times, Trudeau said Canada should face the fact that it was not always a welcoming country.

He cited other historical examples, including the MS St. Louis, for which Canada officially apologized in the past.

“Securing an apology for the MS St. Louis incident has long been a priority for the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Center. ” We’ve been engaged in productive conversations with Parliamentarians on this issue and are grateful that Prime Minister Trudeau recognized this dark chapter in our history at the unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument earlier today. Only by acknowledging our past mistakes can we ensure that in the future, our country will stand for what is right.”

The MS St. Louis story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned” and included Faye Dunaway, Orson Wells and Lee Grant, among others.

The Canadian Jewish Congress commissioned a monument in 2011 called The Wheel of Conscience. Created by Polish-Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, the monument is composed of various gears that explain how the rejection of Jewish suffering occurred.


The Jewish Immigrants Who Helped the U.S. Take on Nazis

They became Americans to fight for freedom and democracy—which meant taking down Hitler and interrogating German POWs.


Shortly after the U.S. 3rd Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945, a 27-year-old intelligence officer named Albert Rosenberg began gathering evidence of the atrocities committed there, horrors that would become a keystone of coming war crimes trials and the voluminous literature documenting Nazi wickedness. Lieutenant Rosenberg was no ordinary GI. He was a Jew born in Germany who, in 1937, had left his home country for the United States after becoming the target of Nazi violence. He’d been drafted into the Army in 1942, becoming one of the 2,000 or so young Jewish German exiles deployed as interrogators and spies against their erstwhile countrymen.

Rosenberg, a native German speaker who was also fluent in English and French, made a powerful impression on French resistance fighter Jorge Semprún, one of the Buchenwald survivors who helped interpret the camp’s infernal workings. Rosenberg was a “thin, gangly intellectual with a sad and piercing gaze,” Semprún would recall years later. “He had become an American to bear arms, to make war on Nazism. To make war on his own country. By becoming an American, he had chosen the universality of the democratic cause, an abstraction that could not become reality until his country had been defeated.”

In late 1942, the Army decided to create a special program to make use of the émigrés’ familiarity with Germany and its language—bright and bilingual, and highly motivated, they were well equipped to extract secrets from German POWs. After being plucked from other units, the men were hastily naturalized, trained in interrogation and propaganda techniques, shipped off to England and attached in small units to the combat forces that invaded Normandy and subsequently defeated and occupied their former homeland. They provided roughly two-thirds of the human intelligence used in the fight against Nazi Germany, according to an official estimate quoted in Sons and Soldiers, military historian Bruce Henderson’s sparkling new account of these émigré-fighters.

These newly hatched Americans trained mostly at Fort Ritchie, a mountain base near Hagerstown, Maryland, that was unconventional in every way. “The soldiers, moving about with a thoroughly unmartial gait, conversing in languages never heard in the Appalachians, might have been taken for Central European vacationers at a spa, gossiping about their cures,” Henderson quotes one émigré as saying. Though the recruits learned how to use rifles and march and drill, and occasionally took long forays into the woods—they frequently got lost and were rescued by puzzled farmers—the bulk of their eight-week training courses consisted of learning German military structures and other information crucial for extracting secrets from captive Wehrmacht soldiers.

The “Ritchie Boys,” as they would become known, employed guile and smarts to glean insights from the POWs while respecting the Geneva Accords. They learned how to distinguish between soldiers with greater or lesser adherence to Nazi ideals; to use bits of intelligence picked up from one soldier to present themselves to a different detainee as all-seeing, making the soldiers feel hopeless about withholding information. One tactic was to present unhelpful POWs with the false impression that they would be shipped to much-feared Russian POW camps if they failed to cooperate. But notably, the émigré soldiers never used waterboarding, electric shock or other “enhanced techniques.” In itself, this was a remarkable fact given the horrible casualties they saw inflicted on their comrades daily, as well as their own deeply personal motivations for seeking revenge on the Germans, who had persecuted and murdered their families and forced them into exile in the first place. They fervently believed that stooping to torture would render them no better than the Nazis.

Personal feelings could be submerged, the Ritchie Boys found, in the interest of an American cause that they identified with freedom and democracy. If the German-born Jews of the 1940s believed in America—much the same as our Afghan and Iraqi helpers in more recent conflicts—it was because they believed in what we stood for, rather than some blind or ethnically tinged nationalismAnd they continued to believe in and fight for that America, even as they sometimes faced prejudice and discrimination in the military, and even as many Americans embraced exactly the kind of nationalism that excluded Jews, blacks, Hispanics, and others from a full and equal place in the nation.


Many of us have grown accustomed to thinking that the American troops who liberated Europe from Hitler were conscious that the epitome of his evildoing was the murder of 6 million Jews. But rescuing or avenging the Jewish victims of Nazism was at best a minor U.S. objective. The Ritchie Boys enlisted in a campaign whose objectives had surprisingly little to do with the oppression that had brought them to the United States.

When the United States entered the war, most Americans had extremely low opinions of their Jewish co-citizens, with one 1938 U.S. Roper survey finding that 60 percent of respondents had a low opinion of Jews. Similarly, a Gallup poll done for Fortune magazine that year found two-thirds of Americans wanted to keep Jewish refugees from entering the country.

At its extreme, American anti-Semitism fueled pro-Nazi organizations like the German American Bund, which propelled 20,000 people into Madison Square Garden in 1939 and thousands more to rallies in cities across the country. Far more socially acceptable was Charles Lindbergh’s America First movement, which railed against a Jewish plot to suck America into a war that was of no concern to us. America First—words that President Donald Trump echoed, with an uncertain degree of historical awareness, at his inauguration and since—was much larger in scope than the Bund, with nearly a million paid members at its height, according to Wayne Cole’s book, America First. Even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when Lindbergh’s movement shriveled in size and influence and the Bund was on the decline, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers still had to contend with powerful widespread resentment of the Jews. The leadership shied from making Jewish persecution a central justification for war or a major facet of the indoctrination of American GIs. Their leeriness was built upon concerns that were not imaginary.

Such attitudes were very present in the military. Anti-Semitism in the ranks is a major theme in bestselling postwar novels such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions and Stefan Heym’s The Crusaders. In The Crusaders, the mess chief, Dondolo, speaks for many of his kind when he tells a Jewish GI, “It’s because of people like you I had to leave my kids. Bunch of Jews get themselves into trouble, and the whole American army swims across the ocean. This fellow Hitler, he knew what he was doing … we should be fighting with them against the Communists.”

Although, on balance, most of them had more positive than negative experiences, the German émigrés—as well as American-born Jews—withstood taunts, discrimination and mistrust at the hands of their comrades in arms. “Most of the guys in basic training were Southerners who hated the Jewish boys from New York and busted our chops most of the time,” George Sakheim, who had fled to the U.S. via Palestine in the 1930s, told me in an interview. In one example of the petty cruelty that stemmed from such attitudes, Sakheim was forced to cut the camp commander’s lawn with scissors as a punishment for having shoes that were insufficiently shined. As Victor Brombert, another Ritchie Boy, recalled in his memoir: “The notion that Jews were cowards who managed to get soft jobs or to stay out of the army altogether, and had pushed America in to the war, was not uncommon among the soldiers.”

After being deployed to the front, the émigrés joined five-man interrogation and mobile radio teams that often were led by American-born officers whose qualifications consisted of a little German-language training, or German heritage. Some of the unit commanders were brazenly anti-Semitic. “Our captain wore his friendliness to Germans on his sleeve. We felt very uncomfortable,” recalled Ritchie Boy Henry Schwab in a 1996 interview on file at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The army policy was we were fighting a war against the Germans. The fact that the Jews were being rounded up and annihilated was more of a local problem that didn’t have a military priority. A side issue. I took my soldiering seriously and the German-friendly captain hammered that down on us, never mind your personal stories and experience.” Gerald Bamberger, another Ritchie Boy, concurred: “The Holocaust at that time was not discussed. Not as an American soldier under those circumstances.”

The Ritchie Boys, with great discipline and loyalty to the U.S. cause, were trained to ask questions of tactical value to the advancing U.S. armies. The fate of Europe’s Jews did not arise. “Not once in my months of interrogation,” said Bamberger. “Nothing came up about Jews in Germany.” After the discoveries of the horrors at Buchenwald, recalled Schwab, who lost two aunts and an uncle in the concentration camps, “we grew more and more resentful.” And yet the Ritchie Boys believed passionately in the principles that Americans would come to view as the core justification of our campaign: to liberate Europe from a tyrant and establish a rule of law based on democracy and freedom untainted by racial hatred.


During the post-WWII period, young German-born Jewish American troops like Henry Kissinger, Albert Rosenthal and Victor Brombert had more to offer Germany, and America’s objectives there, than the typical occupying troops. They had a revitalizing passion for American ideals—a vision that would serve their new country, as well as the European lands they now occupied as American citizens. “Perhaps these youngest Americans, who had only come recently, who had known only hatred, civil war, class struggle and terror, had a specific mission to fulfill, not just to defend their new homeland, not only to destroy Hitlerism, but also to liberate their old country from the shackles of prejudices rooted in a history of centuries,” wrote émigré screenwriter Leo Lania, whose son served in the U.S. military.

In the postwar period, many of the Ritchie Boys were discouraged by the McCarthyism running rampant in the United States, leading a few to move back to Europe. Hanus Burger, a German-speaking Czech theater director who became a Ritchie Boy after fleeing to the United States in 1939, organized a hunger strike aboard the ship taking troops to England to force the authorities to allow black and brown GI members of his theater production to eat with the rest of the crew in the onboard mess hall. During the war, he helped run front-line radio stations that broadcast under a false flag to the German population. After working for the United Nations and CBS after the war, Burger, a former Communist, found the atmosphere increasingly uncomfortable. He returned to Czechoslovakia, only to flee to Austria after the Soviet invasion of 1968.

Others, like the Austrian-born opera singer and psychologist Manfred Hecht, never felt at ease in either world. Europe, for Hecht, “was like a lover who was very beautiful with a lot to offer you who betrayed you so cruelly you could never get over it.” Yet in the United States, he felt like an odd man out. “Too young, too old, strong Jewish identity but quite irreligious. I think I contributed. But integrated? Not really. Too many contradictions involved, too many various pools.”

And some, stung by anti-Semitism, became single-minded Zionists. Among these was William Perl, a brilliant interrogator who led the prosecutorial team questioning suspects in the Malmédy massacre of 84 American GIs, the worst wartime German atrocity against U.S. troops. With the perpetrators in U.S.-run jails in Germany following the trial, which was held at a court set up in the former Dachau concentration camp, Perl and his German-Jewish fellows became the targets of a bizarre campaign of recrimination. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was in contact with German-American isolationists and SS apologists, made his first major appearance on the national scene in 1949 by claiming that Perl’s team had tortured and mistreated the German troops to obtain false confessions. After a series of investigations, the charges were dropped; Perl would go on to become leader of the Washington branch of the militant Jewish Defense League.

One of the best-known Ritchie Boys, the charismatic Hungarian-Jewish journalist Hans Habe, found another kind of frustration while editing the first newspapers to appear in U.S.-occupied Germany after the war. He struggled with General Dwight D. Eisenhower, his commander, over the latter’s requirement that American writers be featured prominently in the papers. Habe wanted to hire Germans who had proven anti-Nazi credentials. “For Eisenhower, the only way to reeducate the Germans was to Americanize them. I understood that this was impossible,” he wrote later. There were good German qualities to be salvaged, he believed, and in any case it was impossible to erase German culture. Furthermore, “it was the ideals of America that mattered, not its superficial culture of bubblegum and baseball and saving the flag.’’

Habe’s observations came to mind in Augustwhen President Donald Trump, upon announcing an increase in troops for Afghanistan, declared that the United States was not in that country for “nation-building” but rather “to kill terrorists.” Habe and his co-editors felt that an invasion was not like a janitorial job, where one could enter with mop and scrubbers, wipe up the mess and leave. It was necessary to understand one’s enemies and one’s friends before setting out on a mission of pacification. A profitable intervention required a strategy fit for the particular country, with particular resources and power structures. The subtle tasks of altering these structures, and adapting them, was nation-building, by any other name.

It has been said that, in the end, World War II was the theater in which Jews became definitively American. “One fought as an American,” wrote Deborah Dash Moore in her 2004 book GI Jews. “That meant one stood up as a Jew. A new type of Jew was being forged in the military.” It was also the moment when Jews were ultimately accepted as Americans. Both émigré and U.S.-born Jews experienced prejudice, but the military command emphatically sided with religious freedom. Anti-Semitism had declined dramatically by 1964, when a B’nai B’rith survey found suspicion of Jews in 29 percent of the population. Revelations of the Holocaust were important factors in this remarkable change, as were the civil rights movement and the inspiring new state of Israel, and the relatively new concept of a Judeo-Christian ethic—all factors that in some sense emerged from the cauldron of the war.

As for Lieutenant Rosenberg, the Army ended up shelving his report because it was deemed too politically sensitive in its depiction of the complex brutality of Buchenwald, with its byzantine architecture of criminal and Communist capos, secret resistance organizations and conspiracies resting on the venality and occasional humanity of certain SS officers. Jews were at the absolute bottom of the pecking order, mostly confined to the so-called “Little Camp,” a typhus- and dysentery-ridden warren of makeshift tents on the downhill side of the main camp, separated by rows of barbed wire. It was left to another Buchenwald prisoner, the German politician Eugene Kogon, who had worked compiling the facts with Rosenberg, to write the book. When it appeared in German in 1946 and in English four years later, The Theory and Practice of Hell offered the first detailed picture of the camps.

In breaks during their interviews at Buchenwald, Rosenberg and Semprún would stroll through a park in nearby Weimar, where the poets Goethe and Schiller had once ambled, discussing German literature and philosophy and their relationship to the Nazi catastrophe. Semprún, a writer and cultural official who lived until 2011, would never see Rosenberg again, but retained a fond memory of this young man who reawakened him to life after the inhumanity of camp life. Rosenberg became a social worker, civil rights activist and professor at University of Texas-El Paso, and died in 2014.

Anyone who has been close to the front lines of a conflict knows that a foreign army’s success depends on its relationship with locals familiar with the territory who are willing to risk their lives to protect and further its mission. Generations after Rosenberg and the Ritchie boys performed that role or translated for those who did, U.S. troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan continue to depend on local translators and fixers willing to give their lives to an American cause. And one of the great heartbreaks for many of the Americans who fought in recent wars, or who covered them, is the U.S. government’s frequent failure to recognize both the sacrifices of these allies and their ideal qualifications to become U.S. citizens. (About 10,000 Afghans who served as translators for the U.S. military and civilian groups are currently waiting for U.S. visas.) Like the German-Jewish émigrés of the 1930s and ’40s, these people fight with us not just for salaries, but because they believe in an America that is more than an ethnic enclave—they believe in the place they’ve heard about, where people of diverse beliefs, races and creeds all have the same protections that people generally want: a fair living, freedom from fear, the right to pursue happiness without impinging on the happiness of others. These are simple ideals, not always fulfilled, yet without their universality, America is alone in the world.


Szymon Laks’s Music of Another World A Polish-Jewish composer who survived Auschwitz as the camp’s musical conductor wrote in an elegant style out of step with his times. Now the times are coming around.

Szymon Laks

After a 2008 performance in Warsaw of a piano quintet by the Polish composer Szymon Laks (1901-1983), a woman approached the pianist to confide that she hadn’t had the pleasure of listening to Laks’s music for 50 years. On the previous occasion, she explained, she’d been in Paris with her late husband Władysław Szpilman—the composer and pianist who is the subject of Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film, The Pianist (2002). The Szpilmans had been friendly with Laks after World War II, but had returned to Poland while Laks remained in Paris, his long-time adoptive home.

If the performance in Warsaw proved a stirring experience for Halina Szpilman, it was no less stirring for the performers, the Toronto-based ARC Ensemble. The score of the Piano Quintet is built on popular Polish melodies, many of them still familiar, and their effect on audiences in Warsaw was electrifying.

At the turn of the 20th century, when Laks was born, Warsaw was still a provincial capital under the Russian tsar, and Poland as a whole was still under the divided yoke of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Imperial Russia; it did not gain (temporary) independence until 1918. After studying mathematics at Wilno (now Vilnius) University, young Laks enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatory, graduating in June 1923. A brief stay in Vienna was soon followed by a move to Paris, where his musical personality was shaped by studies with leading composers and conductors, by the city’s abundant cultural offerings, and by his involvement in the establishment of a society of young Polish musicians like himself.

In Paris, Laks became an industrious and versatile musician, playing the violin at cafés and the piano for silent films, teaching, touring as a ship’s musician, and composing. Most of his own music would remain rooted in the pre-World War II language of the “Paris school”: neoclassical and transparent, its form rigorous and disciplined. Even as he grew and matured as a composer, he never abandoned these French roots. One of his initial published works, issued in 1927, was an elegant and very French sonatina for piano, with echoes of Stravinsky and Ravel. Its craftsmanship revealed a composer of uncommon ability, and its energy and rhythmic vitality would become hallmarks of subsequent compositions.

The Nazi occupation beginning in May 1941 cut short Laks’s burgeoning career. Rounded up and taken to the transit camp at Pithiviers, about 50 miles south of Paris, he was eventually deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 17, 1942. Laks would remember little of the journey, which took nearly three days, save for a single incident when the train stopped and he managed to push through the human crush to a small meshed window, the only source of fresh air. Through the opening he made out the name of the station. It was Eisenach, the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach: a town he had always wanted to visit.

On arriving in Auschwitz,Laks was tattooed with the number 49543 and sent to work in a labor detail. Prisoners generally survived only a few weeks before succumbing to the combination of punishing work, beatings, minimal nutrition, and the cramped, dehumanizing, unsanitary conditions. The details of how Laks managed to survive are chronicled in a dispassionate memoir he published shortly after the war, later issued in English as Music of Another World. Publication in Poland itself, still infected by its own lingering anti-Semitism, was denied by the country’s minister of culture.

In the book, Laks attributes his survival to “a series of miracles.” The first occurred early on when the barrack’s kapo, a Pole, asked if any of the Polish-speaking inmates could play bridge. Volunteering, Laks made up a fourth for the kapos’ nightly game. When it emerged that he was a musician, his kapo immediately arranged for him to join the camp orchestra. Although Laks avoids identifying him, there can be no doubt that this “benefactor” saved his life.

Although musicians were not exempt from physical work, Laks’s abilities as a copyist and arranger separated him from the others; he was installed in the relatively luxurious musikstube (music room) where his work was rewarded by certain privileges and even occasional amenities. He proceeded to turn out arrangements of favorite songs, potpourris, and musical diversions for which he was paid in cigarettes, the camp currency.

Survival became even likelier when he was appointed conductor, replacing a seriously underqualified German Pole named Franz Kopka. He candidly describes his role in initiating the switch:

I admit it without any scruples—I had intentionally introduced into my orchestrations the greatest number of difficulties in rhythm, counterpoint, and syncopation, for the percussion instruments as well, which made it impossible for Kopka to conduct the rehearsals, let alone public performances!

The ploy was hardly without risks. Retaliating, Kopka would accuse Laks of stealing food and performing “forbidden Polish music.” Fortunately the camp commandant had none of it, tearing off Kopka’s conductor’s lyre and formally awarding the baton to Laks.

Making Laks still more useful was the fact that in addition to his skills as a violinist, composer, arranger, and conductor, he was something of a polyglot, being fluent in Polish and French, comfortable in English, German, and Russian, and passably familiar with other languages as well. He also developed a special facility in the orchestration technique known as “odeon”—which, by adding small “alternative” lines to players’ parts, enables instrumentalists to fill in missing parts as the occasion demands, thereby making it possible, as he writes, “for any group to perform any work, regardless of the presence or absence of one or even a few musicians.” The system was especially appropriate for an orchestra whose players routinely sickened and died, to be replaced by new arrivals.

There has been considerable debate over the role of music in the camps. Beyond its obvious utility to the Nazis, did it in any way ameliorate the suffering of the prisoners, recalling to their tortured spirits the persistence in the world of beauty, nobility, and grace? Could it even have instilled or rekindled the will to live?

Laks himself grants none of this. In his view, music was merely one more part of the madness, irrelevant to the quality or the mental stability of prisoners’ lives and powerless to reach them. He writes dispassionately about the marches played as labor detachments left in the morning and returned at night (always, it seemed, at a slower tempo); about the tunes from popular operettas played as macabre commentary at assemblies; and about the bespoke performances that indulged the cultural pretensions of SS officers. Whatever distraction music may have provided for the orchestra members themselves, he regards as delusory the notion that it served to heal or raise prisoners’ spirits. To the contrary, the privileges enjoyed by orchestra members—increased rations, reduced physical labor—were often bitterly resented and led to inevitable suspicions of collaboration.

Once the orchestra was disbanded, Laks was transported briefly to Sachsenhausen and then to a sub-camp of Dachau. In late April 1945, close to the war’s end, the guards marched the prisoners out of the camp and then deserted, leaving them to their own devices. By mid-May, Laks was back in Paris. Two years later, he became a French citizen.

The trauma of Auschwitzleft Laks alienated and reclusive, pursued by memories of his internment, remorseful at having survived when so many had perished, and inevitably speculating as to what he might have done differently so as to evade roundup altogether—in brief, the endless replaying of history and reimagining of circumstances that are the survivor’s legacy. In the immediate postwar years, he left his apartment only when obliged to and avoided social interaction. He did marry, though; his son André, now in his sixties, became a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne.

Laks’s disquiet, however, is rarely expressed in his music, and only a few of his works refer specifically to the Holocaust. A notable exception is the Lament for Jewish Villages (1963), which mourns the passing of Jewish life in Poland. One also wonders whether the wordless melancholy of his Passacaille, composed in 1945, may be another attempt to express the inexpressible; the only voiced syllable is the singer’s “ah.”

As for the Piano Quintet, it began life as Laks’s third string quartetthe first two are lostand was premiered in Paris on November 25, 1945, only a few months after his liberation. There is nothing in itor in the 1967 version for piano quintetto suggest anything but a cheerful divertissement effectively stitching together various well-known Polish songs and dances. Indeed, its conception, if not its composition, may well have begun while Laks was still a camp prisoner. We know that he arranged Polish material there, specifically the three Polonaises reproduced in the appendix of Music of Another World—and perhaps elements of that composition are included somewhere in the twelve or so melodies that feature in the third quartet.

But in the quartet, as well as in its arrangement for piano quintet, the musical nostalgia is specifically Polish rather than anything connected to Jewish sources. And that is not surprising: like his assimilated contemporaries Alexandre Tansman and Jerzy Fitelberg, Laks was a well-traveled cosmopolitan. Moreover, whatever nostalgia he may have felt for the land of his youth, he certainly had no desire to leave postwar Paris, despite its deprivations and rationing, for the ruins and misery of postwar Poland.

Between 1954 and the early 1960s, ill health and economic straits slowed Laks’ musical output to a few film scores composed under a pseudonym. But in 1962 his concise Fourth Quartet (1962), a rhythmic, jazz-inflected piece, took the grand prize at the prestigious Liège competition. The influential critic and composer Alexis Roland-Manuel, who was on the jury, praised the work for raising its melodies “to the very height of harmonic taste, simultaneously revealing Slavic nature and French culture.” There followed a technically demanding Concertino for wind trio (oboe, clarinet, and bassoon), composed in 1965 and showcasing Laks’s superb contrapuntal skill.

Then in June 1967, in the wake of the Six-Day War and, especially, its terrifying months-long prelude when the very survival of Israel appeared to hang in the balance, Laks abandoned composition. “He told me,” his son André has testified, “that writing music had lost its meaning in his eyes. I was too young at the time, or too far from his past, really to understand.” Further deepening Laks’s depression was the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Poland in 1968, which forced most of the country’s remaining Jews to leave. For the remainder of his life he concentrated on writing, translating, and correspondence. He died in Paris on December 11, 1983.

 Laks did littleto promote his music, and his backward-looking style and language separated him from the fashionable trends of the mid-20th-century musical scene. At that time, the composers winning critical approbation included—at the “progressive” end—Karlheinz Stockhausen, Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio, and György Ligeti and—at the relatively more traditionalist end—Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten. Now, more than a half-century since Laks composed his major works, we are under no constraint to criticize them for failing to conform to contemporary trends; the passage of more time may enable still greater appreciation of them for what they are.

In programs commemorating the Holocaust, composers who perished often receive a kind of compensatory attention while survivors like Laks and a number of others tend to be passed over, as does the work of hundreds of émigrés. But at least in Laks’s case, this is now changing. The publisher Boosey & Hawkes has issued a number of his scores, and the ARC Ensemble has included several first-ever recordings in its recent release, Chamber Works by Szymon Laks (Chandos 10983). In addition to the Piano Quintet, the CD features his Passacaille, Sonatina, Fourth String Quartet, Divertimento, and the wind Concertino. All repay listening.


These photos of Holocaust survivors from the SS Exodus are incredible

By Andrew Tobin

Children posing for a photo in hats that read “Exodus 1947” in a displaced persons camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — In the summer of 1947, when the British turned away the SS Exodus from the shores of Palestine, the world was watching.

Before the eyes of the international media, British troops violently forced the ship’s passengers — most of them Holocaust survivors — onto ships back to Europe. The resulting reports helped turn public opinion in favor of the Zionist movement and against the pro-Arab British policy of limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

But much else was happening in the aftermath of World War II, and attention soon shifted elsewhere. One of the only journalists to stick with the story was Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Robert Gary, who filed a series of reports from displaced persons camps in Germany.

Seventy years later and decades after his death, Gary is again drawing attention to the “Exodus Jews,” albeit mostly in Israel.

An album of 230 of his photos will be sold at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, and a number of the images reveal the reality inside the camps, where the Jews continued to prepare for life in Palestine under trying conditions.

Some of the photos, which are not captioned, capture the haunting similarities of the DP camps to those in which the Nazis interned and killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust, including images of Exodus Jews repairing barbed-wire fences under the watch of guards.

But others show the Jews participating in communal activities and preparing for their hoped-for future in Palestine. In one photo, Zionist emissaries from the territory — young women dressed in white T-shirts and shorts — appear to lead the Exodus Jews in a circular folk dance.

Shay Mendelovich, a researcher at Kedem, said he expects there to be a lot of interest in the album, which is being sold by an anoymous collector who bought it from the Gary family. Mendelovich predicted it could be sold for as much as $10,000.

“The photos are pretty unique,” he said. “There were other people in these camps. But Robert Gary was one of the few who had a camera and knew how to take pictures.”

Jews dancing in a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

Between 1945 and 1952, more than 250,000 Jews lived in displaced persons camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria and Italy that were overseen by Allied authorities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Despite having been liberated from the Nazi camps, they continued to languish in Europe under guard and behind barbed wire.

Gary was an American Jewish reporter who JTA sent to Europe to cover the aftermath of World War II. He detailed the living conditions in the camps more than a year before the Exodus journey: inadequate food; cold, crowded rooms; violence by guards and mind-numbing boredom. But he reported in September 1946 that the greatest concern among Jews was escaping Europe, preferably for Palestine.

“Certainly the DP’s are sensitive to the material things and sound off when things go bad (which is as it should be), but above all this is their natural desire to start a new life elsewhere for the bulk in Palestine, for others, in the U.S. and other lands,” he wrote. “Get any group of DP’s together and they’ll keep you busy with the number one question: When are we leaving?”

In July 1947, more than 4,500 Jews from the camps boarded the Exodus in France and set sail for Palestine without legal immigration certificates. They hoped to join the hundreds of thousands of Jews building what would become their state.

Organized by the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary force in Palestine, the mission was the largest of dozens of mostly failed attempts at illegal Jewish immigration during the decades of British administration of the territory following World War I. The British largely sought to limit the arrival of Jews to Palestine out of deference to the often violent opposition of its Arab majority.

The Haganah had outfitted and manned the Exodus in hopes of outmaneuvering the British Navy and unloading the passengers on the beach. But near the end of its weeklong voyage, the British intercepted the ship off the shore of Palestine and brought it into the Haifa port. Troops removed resisting passengers there, injuring dozens and killing three, and loaded them on three ships back to Europe.

Even after two months on the Exodus, the passengers resisted setting foot back on the continent. When the British finally forced them ashore in September 1947 and into two displaced persons camps in occupied northern Germany — Poppendorf and Am Stau — many sang the Zionist anthem “Hatikvah” in protest. An unexploded time bomb, apparently designed by Zionist activists to go off after the passengers were ashore, was later found on one of the ships.

Jews repairing fencing at a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

The widely reported events won worldwide sympathy for European Jews and their national aspirations. An American newspaper headlined a story about the Exodus “Back to the Reich.” The Yugoslav delegate from from the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine called the affair “the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine.”

Later, the Exodus achieved legendary status, most famously as the inspiration and namesake of the 1958 best-seller by Leon Uris and the 1960 film starring Paul Newman. Some, including former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, credited the Exodus with a major role in the foundation of the State of Israel in May 1948.

Gary, who was stationed in Munich, had close ties to Zionist activists; he reported early and often on the continuing plight of the Exodus Jews in the camps. His dispatches highlighted their continued challenges, including malnutrition, and unabated longing to immigrate to Palestine.

In a report from Poppendorf days after the Exodus Jews arrived, Gary said the dark running joke in the camp was that the alternative was simple: “Everyone would choose a tree from which to hang himself.”

“The Jews of Germany demand and expect a chance to start life anew under reasonably secure circumstances,” he wrote. “They feel these places exist mainly in Palestine and the U.S. And they are determined to get there, either by legal or illegal means, or just by plain old fashioned patience.”

Pnina Dromi, who later became Gary’s wife, was among the emissaries that the Jewish Agency for Israel sent to the camps from Palestine to prepare the Jews for aliyah. As a kindergarten teacher, she taught the children Hebrew and Zionist songs. Other emissaries, she said, offered military training in preparation for the escalating battles with the Arab majority in Palestine.

“In the photos, you see a lot of young people in shorts and kind of Israeli clothes,” she said. “We were getting them ready for Israeli life, both good and bad. You have to remember Israel was at war at the time.”

A 1947 photo of the fake certificate identifying Robert Gary as a passenger of the SS Exodus. (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)

Gary continued visiting the DP camps in the weeks after the Exodus Jews returned to Europe. Somehow he even obtained a fake certificate identifying him as one of the former passengers of the ship. But by late September 1947, JTA reported that British authorities had tired of Gary’s critical coverage and barred him and the only other journalist still reporting on the camps from entry.

“The fact that Gary and [New York newspaper PM reporter Maurice] Pearlman were the only correspondents still assigned to the story, and had remained at the camps, aroused the authorities, who charged that they ‘were snooping about too much,’” according to the report.

Israel declared independence in May 1948, and after Great Britain recognized the Jewish state in January 1949, it finally sent most of the remaining Exodus passengers to the new Jewish state. Nearly all the DP camps in Europe were closed by 1952 and the Jews dispersed around the world, most to Israel and the United States.

Gary soon immigrated to Israel, too. He married Dromi in 1949, months after meeting her at a Hanukkah party at the Jewish Agency’s headquarters in Munich, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where they had two daughters. Robert Gary took at job at The Jerusalem Post and later worked for the British news agency Reuters. Pnina Gary, 90, continued her acting career.

She said her husband always carried a camera with him when he was reporting, and their home was filled with photo albums.

Decades after Robert Gary died in Tel Aviv in 1987, at the age of 67, Pnina Gary wrote and starred in a hit play, “An Israeli Love Story.” It is based on her real-life romance with the first man she was supposed to marry, who was killed by local Arabs in an ambush on their kibbutz.

“We knew life wouldn’t be easy in Israel,” she said. “That’s not why anyone comes here.”


Roma Holocaust survivors look to Jews as model for recognition — and reparation

Despite the murder and confiscation of property during WWII, illiteracy, lack of organization and racism prevent the community from receiving proper compensation

 By Julie Masis

CHISINAU, Moldova –This September, about 70 Roma survivors of World War II in Moldova will receive compensation from Germany.But the reparations given to these elderly people in Europe’s poorest country will not take the form of cash — only food and coal to use as fuel, and only for a few months. The budget is about $600 per person.

“These are people who never received any compensation before,” said Marin Alla, the director of the Voice of the Roma Coalition, an NGO that is distributing the aid from the Germany-based EVZ Foundation. “They are trying to survive. Some have a pension of 15 euros ($18) per month, others get 50 euros ($60) per month.”

He said there are now about 600 Roma who lived through WWII left in Moldova, but the funding from Germany is not sufficient to help all of them.

None of the Roma Holocaust survivors in Moldova currently receive German pensions, he said.

Jewish Holocaust survivors in Moldova who were in camps, ghettos and labor battalions have been receiving a pension of 336 euros ($400 USD) per month since 1998. Even those Moldovan Jews who fled from Fascist occupation have been entitled to a one-time hardship fund of 2,556 euros ($3,048 USD) since 2013, according to Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference.)

In addition, Jewish victims of Nazism in Moldova receive help with home care, food, medicine, as well as winter clothes and coal. Almost 700 elderly seniors in Moldova are currently receiving this aid, according to the Claims Conference.

The situation in Moldova is similar to the rest of Europe, where compensation for Roma survivors of the Holocaust came many decades after the Jewish survivors began receiving compensation — or not at all.

“The authorities said, ‘The Roma had nothing anyway, so what should they be compensated for?’” said Mirjam Karoly, the senior advisor on Roma and Sinti issues at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose father was born in a Roma concentration camp in Austria. The authorities said, ‘The Roma had nothing anyway, so what should they be compensated for?’

“They were second-class victims. [The authorities said] the Roma are not victims of the Holocaust because they were put into camps for crime prevention purposes because they were criminals. So they were using the Nazi language,” she said.

The compensation for Roma survivors has varied from country to country.
For example, a year ago, it was announced that Roma survivors in the Czech Republic would get a one-time payment of 2,500 euros ($3000) each as a result of months of negotiations between the Czech and German foreign ministries.

In Romania, 200 Roma survivors began to receive monthly pensions from Germany two years ago — but only thanks to the efforts of a dedicated historian. Because the compensation came 70 years after the end of the war, very few of the survivors were still living.

Petre Matei, a researcher at the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, helped Roma survivors in Romania apply for German pensions. He said that the reason that the Roma began to receive pensions decades after the Jewish survivors is because many Roma are illiterate, the Roma community is not organized, and because there is still a lot of discrimination against the Roma.

“The problem for the Roma is that they can’t read and write, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to speak German,” Matei said. “Also, to be anti-Semitic could be problematic, but to not like the Gypsies in Eastern Europe, it’s not that dangerous.”

To be anti-Semitic could be problematic, but to not like the Gypsies in Eastern Europe, it’s not that dangerous

Of the 300 Roma Holocaust survivors in Romania who applied for German pensions because they were deported to concentration camps, 200 survivors received the pensions which average approximately 200 euros ($239 USD) monthly plus a sum of approximately 12,000 euros ($14,000 USD) which is supposed to make up for the money that they should have been paid in the last 10 years, Matei said.

The other 100 Roma concentration camp survivors did not receive the pensions because they were younger than 11 years old during the war, so the German authorities decided that they were too young to perform forced labor, Matei explained. (Those 100 people have become eligible for a one-time payment from Germany this year.)

It is not clear how many Roma Holocaust survivors received compensation in other countries because compensation programs often lumped the Roma together with everyone else.

As a result, the Roma were often underrepresented, according to Ralf Possekel, who is in charge of quality management at the EVZ Foundation in Germany, which is funded by the German government and private companies to compensate the victims of Nazi forced labor camps.

“Our experience is when we did a general project for survivors, very few Roma attended,” Possekel said. “It’s hard to reach the Roma people, it’s hard to include them.”  It’s hard to reach the Roma people, it’s hard to include them

Because of this observation, EVZ began to work directly with Roma organizations to help Roma survivors. In addition to the project in Moldova that started in September, EVZ has nine similar projects in Ukraine and one in Russia and is planning to expand the program to Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania, Possekel said.

The budgets of these projects are small and cash is not distributed to the survivors directly. EVZ funds food, home repairs and volunteer helpers for the elderly, Possekel said.

One EVZ project in Ukraine even aims to bring a Roma organization for Holocaust survivors together with a Jewish organization “because Jewish organizations have huge experience working with survivors,” Possekel said.

Indeed, while the Jewish and Roma communities have not been historically close, during WWII both suffered.

Of the 25,000 Roma who were deported to Romanian concentration camps from Moldova and Romania between 1942 and 1944, only approximately 11,000 survived, according to Ion Duminica, a Roma researcher at the Moldovan Academy of Sciences. But these numbers are estimates at best, he said.

Lured by fascist propaganda to the so-called “work camps,” the Roma perished from hunger, typhus and from the cold. There were cases of cannibalism, with parents trying to save their starving children by feeding them dead family members, Duminica said.

The Roma said, ‘We wished that we were executed like the Jews’

“The Roma said, ‘We wished that we were executed like the Jews,’” said Duminica who interviewed survivors. “When they remember [that time], they start crying.”

Worldwide, historians estimate that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Roma were murdered during the Holocaust, with some countries such as Germany, Austria, and the Baltic states losing their entire Roma populations.

“Many groups were victimized (by the Nazis), but only the Jews and the Roma were victims of the Final Solution, victims of genocide,” said Prof. Ian Hancock, the director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Hancock points out that the Roma also had their property stolen from them during the Holocaust — their gold, their horses, and their homes — and are therefore also entitled to compensation.

In Moldova, so far, this compensation has not come.

“They mistreated us then and they still mistreat us now,” said Artur Cerari, the Roma Baron of Moldova who is regarded as the most respected Roma leader in the former Soviet Union. “The Jews get pensions every year and every month, but the Roma got nothing.”