Auschwitz survivors warn of rising anti-Semitism 75 years on

Diginitaries arrive to put candles at a memorial site at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp gathered for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet army’s liberation of the camp, using the testimony of survivors to warn about the signs of rising anti-Semitism and hatred in the world today. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) — Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp prayed and wept as they marked the 75th anniversary of its liberation, returning Monday to the place where they lost entire families and warning about the ominous growth of anti-Semitism and hatred in the world.

“We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told those at the commemoration, which included the German president as well as Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.

“The magnitude of the crime perpetrated in this place is terrifying, but we must not look away from it and we must never forget it,” Duda said.

About 200 camp survivors attended, many of them elderly Jews and non-Jews who traveled from Israel, the United States, Australia, Peru, RussiaSlovenia and elsewhere. Many lost parents and grandparents in Auschwitz or other Nazi death camps during World War II, but were joined by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, brought the crowd to tears with the story of a survivor who was separated from his family: The man watched his young daughter, in a red coat, walk to her death, turning into a small red dot in the distance before disappearing forever.

After the end of the war, when “the world finally saw pictures of gas chambers, nobody in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis,” he recalled. “But now I see something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred.”

“Do not be silent! Do not be complacent! Do not let this ever happen again — to any people!” Lauder said.

Marian Turski, a 93-year-old Polish Jewish survivor, said he did not expect to make it to the next commemoration and wanted to transmit a message to his grandchildren’s generation: That the destruction of the Jews began with small steps that were tolerated. What began with banning Jews from sitting on benches in Berlin evolved in incremental steps to ghettos and death camps. And that such horrors could happen anywhere, even in the United States.

“Auschwitz did not descend from the sky,” he said, crediting those words to Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen, among those present. Calling for people to not be indifferent, he said: “Because if you are indifferent, you will not even notice it when upon your own heads, and upon the heads of your descendants, another Auschwitz descends from the sky.”

As a Jewish survivor recited Hebrew prayers for the dead, the crowd bowed their heads or wiped away tears. Clergymen of other faiths also prayed.

Then, with the famous gate and barbed wire illuminated in the dark and cold evening, guests marched in a procession to place candles at a memorial to the victims set amid the remains of the gas chambers.

Most of the 1.1 million people murdered by the Nazi German forces at the camp were Jews, but other Poles, Russians and Roma were imprisoned and killed there.

World leaders gathered in Jerusalem last week to mark the anniversary in what many saw as a competing observance. Among them were Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Prince Charles.

Politics intruded on that event, with Duda boycotting it in protest after Putin claimed that Poland played a role in triggering World War II. Duda had wanted a chance to speak before or after Putin to defend his nation’s record in face of those false accusations, but he was not given a speaking slot in Jerusalem.

Those claims comes as many Eastern European countries in recent years have been mythologizing their own people’s behavior during the war and suppressing knowledge of wrongdoing, something Poland’s government also has been criticized for.

Duda said Monday at a news conference that he felt that in Jerusalem, “Polish participation in the epic fight against the Nazis was ignored.”

At the commemoration, he did not mention Russia by name. Yet he stressed how Poland was invaded and occupied, losing 6 million of its citizens in the war, half of them Jews. He recalled how Poland fought the Germans on several fronts, warned the world in vain about the genocide of the Jews, and for decades has been a responsible custodian of Auschwitz and other sites of the German atrocities.

“Distorting the history of World War II, denying the crimes of genocide and negating the Holocaust as well as an instrumental use of the Auschwitz for whatever purposes is tantamount to desecration of the memory of the victims,” Duda said. “Truth about the Holocaust must not die.”

Among others attending the observances at Auschwitz, which is located in the part of southern Poland that was occupied by Germany during the war, were German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The U.S. was represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Organizers of the event in Poland, the Auschwitz-Birkenau state memorial museum and the World Jewish Congress, have sought to keep the spotlight on survivors.

On the eve of the commemorations, survivors, many leaning on their children and grandchildren for support, walked through the camp where they had been brought in on cattle cars and suffered hunger and illness and came close to death. They said they were there to remember, to share their histories with others and to make a gesture of defiance toward those who had sought their destruction.

“I have no graves to go to and I know my parents were murdered here and burned. So this is how I pay homage to them,” said Yvonne Engelman, a 92-year-old Australian who was joined by three more generations now scattered around the globe.

She recalled being brought in from a ghetto in what was then Czechoslovakia by cattle car, being stripped of her clothes, shaved and put in a gas chamber. By some miracle, the gas chamber did not work that day, and she later survived slave labor and a death march.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron paid his respects at the city’s Shoah Memorial and warned about rising hate crimes in the country, which increased 27% last year.

“That anti-Semitism is coming back is not the Jewish people’s problem: It’s all our problem — it’s the nation’s problem,” Macron said.

Hundreds of diplomats and guests along with several Holocaust survivors joined U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande for a ceremony at the United Nations in New York.

“May we make a pledge: We stand united against hate,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor. “We stand united against anti-Semitism. We stand united against xenophobia and racism and any form of bigotry.”

Guterres said that “solidarity in the face of hatred is needed today more than ever,” and that the U.N. “will stand firm every day and everywhere against anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred of all kinds.”

https://apnews.com/d503019511da4f2580c12f3199ddab79

House bill would help Holocaust survivors and families recover billions in insurance payments

BY MARCY OSTER

(JTA) — Legislation with bipartisan support that would restore the rights of Holocaust-era insurance beneficiaries to recover billions in unclaimed payments left behind after World War II has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Due to federal court rulings and a failure by insurance companies to adequately publish the names of recipients and pay these claims, 97 percent of the approximately 800,000 policies held in 1938 have yet to be honored. The insurers’ unreasonable demands that death certificates and original policy paperwork be produced is all but impossible for survivors who, at the time, had just survived death camps, forced relocations, torture and death marches.

The Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2019 was introduced Friday by Rep.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-New York. A Senate companion bill was recently introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada.

The legislation would: validate state laws requiring insurers to publish policy holder information; establish a federal cause of action in U.S. courts to ensure Holocaust survivors and heirs have access to U.S. courts; and provide a 10-year period of time for cases to be brought after the date of enactment.

“Preventing Holocaust survivors and their families from collecting on documented policies is truly outrageous and cruel, but allowing these global insurance corporations to hold on to this unjust enrichment is an offensive re-victimization that cannot be allowed to stand,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/house-bill-would-help-holocaust-survivors-and-families-recover-billions-in-insurance-payments

FBI: Jews were victims of most religion-based hate crimes in 2018

But despite Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, bureau records drop in the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents in America from 2017

A young boy looks at the fenced off entrance to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2019, the first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshipers. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A young boy looks at the fenced off entrance to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2019, the first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshipers. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

JTA — Despite the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last year, hate crimes against American Jews decreased 11 percent overall in 2018, according to the FBI’s annual hate crimes report.

But Jews were again were the victims of the majority of hate crimes that were based on religion last year in the United States.

But hate crime murders totaled 24 — the highest number since the FBI began tracking statistics in 1991, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL said that the high number was attributable to the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018.

Overall, hate crimes decreased slightly, to 7,120 in 2018 from 7,175 the previous year, with the majority based on race. Almost 19 percent were based on religion and nearly 17 percent on sexual orientation.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/fbi-jews-were-victims-of-most-religion-based-hate-crimes-in-2018/

Netflix docuseries probes life of Nazi guard John Demjanjuk

‘The Devil Next Door,’ set to be released November 4, examines the trials of the Ukrainian-born man mistaken for ‘Ivan the Terrible’ who had his death sentence overturned in Israel

A new Netflix docuseries examines the trials of convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, who was mistaken for the notoriously brutal guard “Ivan the Terrible” of the Treblinka extermination camp and had his death sentence overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court in 1993.

“The Devil Next Door” will be released on November 4.

But in 1993, Israel’s top court unanimously ruled Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible,” overturning the 1988 verdict and returning him to the US after it received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.

Demjanjuk later went on to be convicted in Germany of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, in a legal precedent that made him one of the best-known faces of Nazi prosecutions.

The conviction of the retired Ohio autoworker in a Munich court in May 2011 on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, which was still being appealed upon his death at 91 in 2012, broke new legal ground in Germany as the first time someone was convicted solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

John Demjanjuk in Israel's Supreme Court in 1991. Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court for serving as a Nazi death camp guard. (photo credit: Flash90)

John Demjanjuk in Israel’s Supreme Court in 1991. Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court for serving as a Nazi death camp guard. (photo credit: Flash90)

It has opened the floodgates to hundreds of new investigations in Germany, though Demjanjuk’s death serves as a reminder that time is running out for prosecutors.

Demjanjuk steadfastly maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else — first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions.

When they overturned his conviction in Israel, the Supreme Court judges said they still believed Demjanjuk had served the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor. But they declined to order a new trial, saying there was a risk of violating the law prohibiting trying someone twice on the same evidence.

After he was released in Israel, Demjanjuk returned to his suburban Cleveland home in 1993 and his US citizenship, which had been revoked in 1981, was reinstated in 1998.

Demjanjuk remained under investigation in the US, where a judge revoked his citizenship again in 2002 based on Justice Department evidence suggesting he concealed his service at Sobibor. Appeals failed, and the nation’s chief immigration judge ruled in 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

Signs in eight languages at the site of the Sobibor death camp in Poland. (Flickr/Sgvb)

Prosecutors in Germany filed charges in 2009, saying Demjanjuk’s link to Sobibor and Trawniki was clear, with evidence showing that after he was captured by the Germans he volunteered to serve with the fanatical SS and trained as a camp guard.

After his conviction in May 2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison, but was appealing the case to Germany’s high court. He was released pending the appeal, and died a free man in his own room in a nursing home in the southern Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netflix-docu-series-probes-life-of-nazi-guard-john-demjanjuk/

Ex-SS guard: I saw people led to gas chamber, didn’t know they were being gassed

‘I didn’t see anyone come out,’ says Bruno Dey, 93, being tried on 5,230 counts of accessory to murder for killings while he was at Stutthof camp

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig, arrives at the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The prosecution accuses the 93-year-old man of aiding and abetting the murder of 5,230 people. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig, arrives at the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The prosecution accuses the 93-year-old man of aiding and abetting the murder of 5,230 people. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

BERLIN  — A 93-year-old former guard at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp testified at his trial Friday that he once saw people being led into the gas chamber, followed by screaming and banging sounds behind the locked door.

Bruno Dey, a former SS private, went on trial Oct. 17 at the Hamburg state court. He faces 5,230 counts of accessory to murder for killings while he was at Stutthof from 1944 to 1945.

He said he heard screams and banging shortly after, but added: “I didn’t know that they were being gassed.”

Dey said that about 20 or 30 prisoners were led in, and that they didn’t resist. He said he couldn’t say whether they were men or women, because their heads were shaved, or whether they were Jews or other prisoners. And he also couldn’t say what happened afterward.

“I didn’t see anyone come out,” he said.

Gas chamber at Stutthof (Courtesy)

He testified that, on another occasion, he saw a group of 10 or 15 men being led into the gas chamber, but they then came out and were taken to the crematorium building by people in white overalls. He heard that the prisoners were supposed to work outside the camp and had to be checked first, he said.

Dey said he and around 400 other soldiers were brought to Stutthof in June or July 1944 and he didn’t know at the time what kind of people were incarcerated there. He said he heard only “rumors” that they included political prisoners and Jews.

Though there is no evidence that Dey was involved in a specific killing at the camp near Danzig, today the Polish city of Gdansk, prosecutors argue that as a guard he helped the camp function.

Despite his age, Dey is being tried in a juvenile court because he was 17 when he started serving at Stutthof.

He faces a possible six months to 10 years in prison if convicted. There are no consecutive sentences under German law.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ex-ss-guard-on-trial-i-saw-people-led-into-gas-chamber/

Seattle Holocaust center vandalized with white supremacist graffiti

‘Obscure’ symbols discovered on building as teachers’ seminar was taking place inside

Screen capture from video of alleged white supremacist graffiti discovered sprayed on The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, October 2019. (YouTube)

Screen capture from video of alleged white supremacist graffiti discovered sprayed on The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, October 2019. (YouTube)

The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle was vandalized with what it said was white supremacist graffiti.

The graffiti was discovered on Wednesday, the center said in a letter released the following day.

It is the first time in the building’s 30-year history that it has been targeted, local news station KIRO Channel 7 reported.

The Seattle Police Bias Unit is investigating.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/seattle-holocaust-center-vandalized-with-white-supremacist-graffiti/

Pro-Palestinian student walks out on Holocaust survivor’s speech after accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’

(JTA) — A Palestinian student at Benedictine University called on a Holocaust survivor to condemn the establishment of Israel, and then walked out on his speech after he did not do so.

Following a speech last week by Professor Harold Kasimow, who survived the Holocaust as a child, Benedictine senior Ayah Ali asked a question which drew a parallel between Kasimow’s experiences and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Ali, according to her Twitter feed, is affiliated with the Chicago-area school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

“It honestly means the world that you were willing to share your story with us, but I wanted to bring your attention towards a similar story,” Ali said. “I’m sure you know about whats happening in Palestine and my question to you is, do you support or do you condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state, and whether it’s OK to exile and completely — the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, the way that the Jewish people were exiled and ethnically cleansed?”

Kasimow, an emeritus professor of religious studies at Grinnell University who is a visiting scholar at Benedictine this year, answered that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “not an area of my experience.” He added that though he is “not happy with the government in Israel,” he believes the state should exist. He said that both sides of the conflict bear responsibility for solving it.

“It’s such a complicated issue,” he said. “There are many Jews involved in interfaith centers who are working on this very issue, trying to help create peace, but it’s really both sides need to [be] open to each other and talk to each other. But if Israel should exist? Yes, I believe Israel should exist.”

Ali responded that she is “a result of experiences that you’ve been through. I am a survivor of the intifada.” She said “it’s disappointing to know that a Holocaust survivor would remain neutral in a situation of injustice.”

Kasimow said that “it’s not a matter of neutral, it’s not total guilt or innocence on either side.”

After reiterating her comments, Ali walked out of the speech. The school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine tweeted out videos of the exchange.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has reached out to both Kasimow and Ali seeking comment.

https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/pro-palestinian-student-walks-out-on-holocaust-survivors-speech-after-accusing-israel-of-ethnic-cleansing

Court blocks sale of Holocaust letter by Yad Vashem board member

Ruling comes after prominent Haredi activist declined to give the letter by 16-year old victim Rachel Mintz to her family or to Yad Vashem archive

This letter, written by Rachel Mintz when she was 11, five years before she was murdered in the Holocaust, stands at the center of a court battle between a Haredi activist and the victim's relatives. (Courtesy of Adva Lotan)

This letter, written by Rachel Mintz when she was 11, five years before she was murdered in the Holocaust, stands at the center of a court battle between a Haredi activist and the victim’s relatives. (Courtesy of Adva Lotan)

The Tel Aviv District Court issued an injunction against the sale of a letter written by a young girl killed in the Holocaust after her surviving relatives sued to prevent a prominent Haredi activist from bringing it to auction.

The letter, one of several that was set to be auctioned off as a lot on Tuesday evening, was written by Rachel Mintz, a Jewish girl from Poland, when she was 11 years old. It described life in 1937 Poland and her desire to immigrate to Israel.

The letter was found along with other letters sent by Jewish children from Poland and were intended to be delivered to children at a school in Haifa. The school principal took the letters home, and after his death, they ended up into the hands of a merchant who sold them.

From there they came to Dudi Zilbershlag, a Haredi businessman, activist and journalist who is a member of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum council. He in turn offered them to the Dynasty auction house.

Dudi Zilbershlag, an ultra-Orthodox advertiser, journalist, publisher, activist public, on January 16, 2011. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

When Mintz’s remaining family found out about the sale, they say they asked it instead be placed in a public institution such as Yad Vashem, but the auction house denied their request. The family sued for custody of the letter but at an initial hearing, representatives of the auction house offered to sell it to them for $10,000. They declined the family and judge’s request to transfer the letter to Yad Vashem.

During an initial hearing, the judge, Erez Yakuel, asked Zilbershlag: “Is it because you are part of Yad Vashem that I should teach you to do a mitzvah and present Yad Vashem the letter instead of selling it?”

“I want you to understand that this letter is not just a collectible item. It’s a personal, family memory, maybe the last one ever of our family member who perished in the Holocaust,” Edva Lotan, Mintz’s niece, wrote on Facebook.

“I sincerely ask to stop the sale of this letter and help us ensure that it does not go into private hands, but will be kept in a place that honors my aunt’s memory.”

In response, Zilbershlag stated that stopping the sale would cause him “irreparable” financial damage. This, however, did not stop the judge from calling a halt to the sale and ruling that Zilbershlag must negotiate with the family to find a solution.

“It is morally unacceptable and highly distasteful that anyone should trade in personal items, artifacts or documents of Holocaust victims or from the Holocaust era,” Yad Vashem said in a statement.

“The appropriate place for these historical and delicate pieces is in reputable and professional institutions such as Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, where they can be thoroughly researched, expertly preserved and ultimately utilized as historical testimony for the purposes of research, education and commemoration,” it said. “Yad Vashem has contacted the person holding the letters, and explained that their proper place is in the Yad Vashem Archives.”

Yad Vashem emphasized that Zilbershlag was not an employee of the institution.

“He serves in the directorate and council committees,” a spokesman said. “These positions are via political appointment and on a volunteer basis.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/court-blocks-sale-of-holocaust-letter-by-yad-vashem-board-member/