Auschwitz guard dies a week before trial

Ernest Tremmel, 93, was accused of involvement in the murder of more than 1,000 people

AushwitzA former SS guard died a week before he was scheduled to go on trial for his alleged role in the murder of more than 1,000 people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Ernest Tremmel’s death was announced Thursday. Tremmel, 93, was scheduled to go on trial in Hanau, Germany, on April 13. He was a member of the Auschwitz SS guard team from November 1942 to June 1943.

According to EFE Agency, Tremmel is believed to have died two days ago of natural causes.

Two other men and one woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz.

Two others — former paramedic Hubert Zafke, 95, and former guard Reinhold Hanning, 94 — are currently on trial.

A 92-year-old woman who worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz is also expected to go on trial soon, but no date has been announced yet. She is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 260,000 people.

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Einstein letter blasting US policy on Nazis up for auction

In pained 1942 message to colleague, renowned physicist says American inaction led by financiers with near-fascist outlook

Albert EinsteinA letter in which world-celebrated Jewish physicist Albert Einstein criticized insufficient action by the US to halt the actions of Nazi Germany will go under the hammer on April 18.

n the September 3, 1942, letter, Einstein shared his concerns over US policy with his colleague Princeton University President Dr. Frank Kingdon, and used particularly blunt language to describe his thoughts on American leadership.

“You can imagine how the new crimes committed by the Nazis in France make me suffer, crimes assisted to by the ‘fascist’ Vichy-traitors,” he wrote. He questioned Washington’s reluctance to fight fascist powers in France and in Spain, as well as its failure to “assist Russia in her dire need.”

But he asserted that US leadership was “controlled to a large degree by financiers the mentality of whom is near to the fascist frame of mind.

“If Hitler were not a lunatic, he could easily have avoided the hostility of the Western powers. That he is a lunatic is the sole advantage in the present sinister picture of the world,” he stated.

The US began its land operations in the European theater in November of 1942, two months after Einstein’s letter was written.

Despite his criticism, Einstein said he would not comment publicly on the matter, as he believed any response to such a position would be no more than “lame and halfhearted lip-service brought about by pressure from outside.” He also noted that he did not “like to mention those things, especially as one who is grateful having sought and found refuge and protection in this country.”

Einstein had fled Germany to the US in 1933, following the rise of the Nazi regime.

The letter is being offered up for auction by American auctioneers Profiles in History.

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Holocaust survivor, 92, hosts Reddit forum, describes hellish life in Nazi camps

Survivor(JTA) — A 92-year-old survivor of seven German concentration camps participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything question-and-answer session, detailing his harrowing near-death to liberation story.

Henry Flescher of Aventura, Florida, participated in the forum with the help of his grandson, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday. He had not heard of the social news-sharing site Reddit before the session earlier this week.

“Most people are never happy and complain too much,” Flescher said. “It’s too hot out, it’s too cold out. Life is beautiful, no need to complain so much.”

Flescher, a native of Vienna, escaped to France during World War II but was captured in Lyon. He spent the next three years in the Nazi camps, including Auschwitz.

He described being transported to a camp by a cattle car packed with prisoners and one bucket to use as a toilet.

“The smell was unfathomable,” Flescher said.

After enduring six days in the car, 300 prisoners were taken off the train and the others were shipped off to be killed at Auschwitz. Flescher said he was number 298.

“I will never forget the number 298,” he said.

Flescher went on to work in a shoe factory at the Ohrdruf camp and helped build bridges at the Peiskretscham camp. He also worked at the Blechhamer camp, a place he called “hell” and where he witnessed a friend be hanged for using a telephone wire as a belt to hold his pants up.

“Punishments were a daily routine and my front teeth were knocked out here,” he said.

Flescher nearly gave up hope when he contracted a bad case of dysentery at the Gross Rosen camp.

“I lived for tomorrow. I was always positive,” he said.

He was eventually found hiding in a chicken coop by American soldiers in 1945.

“I have always believed in God. Before and after. God didn’t kill the people, the Nazis did,” he said.

Numerous celebrities and thought leaders, from Jerry Seinfeld to President Barack Obama, have participated in Reddit AMA sessions, which solicit questions from users in the website’s social network community.

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Museums Plan to Exhibit Art from Gurlitt’s Nazi-Era Trove

The museums in Germany and Switzerland intend to display portions of the collection—1,500 works worth an estimated $1 billion—to find clues about their unknown provenance

The Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland and the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany have announced plans for parallel exhibitions of art from the estate of Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had amassed a billion-dollar collection from dealing art in the Nazi era, before bequeathing it to his son.

The collection—consisting of some 1,500 works, which were discovered in the Munich and Salzburg apartments belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt and include paintings by Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso—was confiscated in 2012 by the German government as part of a tax evasion investigation, reported the New York Times. “The authorities kept the find a secret until November 2013, when it was revealed by a German newsmagazine.”

Tablet contributor Saul Austerlitz wrote about the collection shortly thereafter, laying out much of the controversy behind Gurlitt’s trove:

The discovery of the largest cache of looted Nazi art since the end of World War II, with an estimated worth of well over a billion dollars, in a shabby Munich apartment belonging to an 80-year-old art dealer named Cornelius Gurlitt was an obvious revelation. The discovery that local authorities had chosen to keep that information to themselves for nearly two years was a disturbing shock. In the opinion of many scholars and legal experts, it calls into question Germany’s commitment to the restoration of looted art to its rightful owners.

On Monday, after a mounting uproar, a list of 25 artworks—three paintings and 22 drawings—was released on the Lost Art Internet Database, the official German governmental website for looted art. But the overwhelming majority of works in Gurlitt’s collection remain unknown, an enormous black hole for potential claimants, some number of whom have surely died during the delay. “The amount of information that’s available is just really astonishingly small,” said Frank Lord, a lawyer at Herrick, Feinstein with experience in looted-art cases.

Little more is known about the contents of the collection, save for five works that have been identified as having been looted by Nazis after the German government spent two years and $2 million investigating the case.

Gurlitt died in 2014, leaving his collection to the Kunstmuseum in Bern. Louis Rönsberg, a lawyer representing Gurlitt’s cousin Uta Werner, who is currently challenging the validity of Gurlitt’s will, told website The Art Newspaper that the exhibition’s planning is “premature.” Werner said she believes “it would be more useful to put better photographs of the collection online and publish all the business letters and documentation that was found in Gurlitt’s homes.”

Meanwhile, David Toren, a 90-year-old New York attorney who escaped Nazi Europe in 1939, recently petitioned the New York State Supreme Court to help him identify the buyers of two works seized from his great uncle in Wrocław, Poland, around 1940, both of which ended up in Gurlitt’s possession, the New York Daily News reported last week. The paintings—Max Liebermann’s “Basket Weavers” and Franz Skarbina’s “Nach House”—were sold by Berlin-based art dealer Villa Grisebach Auctions, which has a Manhattan branch, in 1995 and 2000.

On Monday, Artnet News reported that Toren, through independent investigation, had discovered that “Basket Weavers” was acquired by an Israeli collector. In February, writing in Haaretz, Toren wrote, “Return the stolen art in your possession”; Grisebach has refused to reveal the identities of either buyer, citing client confidentiality.

As for the planned exhibitions in Switzerland and Germany, the two museums are currently unable to set a firm date for the two shows due to the legal issues surrounding Gurlitt’s collection, but they are aiming for this upcoming winter, a Bundeskunsthalle spokesman told The New York Times.

In a statement, the museums said they hope the exhibitions will “contribute to finding clues about the unknown provenance of works.”

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UK author exposes the oft-forgotten horrors of a Nazi death camp for women

In ‘If This Is a Woman,’ Sarah Helm goes inside Germany’s Ravensbrück, where up to 90,000 women perished during the Holocaust

Concentration Camp

LONDON — Lying 50 miles north of Berlin, Ravensbrück was the only concentration camp the Nazis built with the sole intention to house female political prisoners. Opening up its gates in May 1939, just four months before the outbreak of World War II, it was liberated by the Russians six years later.

Over 130,00 women passed through its gates. During its busiest period, towards the end of the war, the camp had a population of 45,000. Estimates of the final death toll are debatable, ranging from 30,000 to 90,000.

Why, therefore, is so little known about a camp that eliminated tens of thousands of women on German soil?

The wholesale destruction of evidence partially explains for this historical vacuum. In Ravensbrück’s final days, before the liberation by the Soviet Red Army, most prisoner’s files were burned by the Nazis and then thrown in the lake beside the camp.

If Auschwitz was the capital of crimes against Jews, under the Third Reich, Ravensbrück, it seems, was the capital of crimes against women.

At least that’s the argument British freelance journalist and author Sarah Helm makes with compelling conviction in her latest book, “If This Is a Woman — Inside Ravensbrück: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women.”

Backed up by a vast undertaking of research and interviews — including historical sources that were once locked behind the Iron Curtain — Helm’s book shows how one dedicated writer really can rescue history from the dustbin.
Sarah Helm, author of ‘If This Is a Woman — Inside Ravensbrück: Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women’ (Courtesy)

Paradoxically, though, says Helm, when we begin chatting, the emergence of the Holocaust as a proper cultural global discussion, during the 1960s, was a contributing factor that ensured Ravensbrück became sidelined as a subject in the dominant historical discourse around Nazi Germany and its heinous crimes.

“Obviously people had known about the Holocaust before [the 1960s],” says Helm. “But the consciousness had not taken a proper hold until after the Eichmann trial in 1961.”

Understandably, then, says Helm, the sheer scale and horror of the Jewish Holocaust totally took over the narrative.

“And so the story of the non-Jewish groups [that were exterminated] were treated as secondary.”

Moreover, because these prisoners in Ravensbrück were all women, this important epoch of Nazi history was neatly dusted aside for decades hence, Helm explains. “Most mainstream historians at the time were men, so inevitably this subject was neglected.”

‘Most mainstream historians at the time were men, so inevitably this subject was neglected’

It really wasn’t until the mid-1990s that female historians began to explore the stories of Ravensbrück with proper analysis. Before that, most women who passed through the camp were lucky if they got even a paragraph in the main history of the Holocaust, says Helm.

Especially the German “asocials”: the homeless, the prostitutes, and the down and outs.

“These women were sent off to gas chambers and were of no real interest to historians,” says Helm.

Perhaps what’s most fascinating about the history of Ravensbrück is the way it transformed, over time, from an institution that housed political prisoners only, to eventually become the cruelest of Nazi death camps.

“In the beginning Ravensbrück was very small,” says Helm. “It consisted largely of German women, who were either asocials or political prisoners. Basically anyone who openly opposed Hitler.”

CommemorationMany women in that particular group were Jewish says Helm. Although it appears they hadn’t at this early stage been placed there because of their racial status, but simply because of their political activity.

By autumn 1944, Ravensbrück had become overcrowded. The vast numbers coming into the camp were the result of the enormous evacuation process in the East, where the Russians had begun liberating numerous camps, such as Auschwitz.

Consequently, Hitler took the rather bizarre decision to take all the survivors out of these camps, and march them back to Germany.

“Essentially, hundreds of thousands of destitute prisoners were being marched westwards,” Helm explains.

The Hungarian exodus impacted massively on Ravensbrück too, especially the Jews of Hungary, many of whom were sent to Auschwitz. By October 1944 the Horthy government in Budapest had fallen, and Allied bombs had destroyed train lines.

Thus transportation of people across Eastern Europe had become a major problem. Still, Hitler insisted that every last Jew be removed from Hungary before the Red Army arrived.

Auschwitz was no longer operating after November 1944, so many [prisoners] began to be marched towards Germany,” Helm explains.

“In this climate, [the Nazis] began taking the view that the only way to solve this problem was to kill more people.”

Crucially, though, Helm makes clear, the killing that began at Ravensbrück during this time meant gassing ceased to be an ideological process of extermination. Instead, in the view of warped Nazi ideology at any rate, it became a practical way of controlling population numbers in horrifically overcrowded work camps.

“The killing had to go up by 2,000 a month at Ravensbrück during this time,” says Helm. A way had to be found to speed up the killing process too. So a gas chamber was set up.

creamatorium“Parts of that gas chamber were said to have been brought directly from Auschwitz, which at that time had been dismantled,” says Helm.

The title of Helm’s book may give the impression that the concentration camps in Nazi Germany were entirely Hitler’s brainchild, but almost every aspect of the camps were managed and planned with extraordinary detail by Heinrich Himmler.

In her book Helm writes: “Adolf Hitler showed little interest in the concentration camps, but they lay at the center of Himmler’s empire; whatever went on behind their walls was signed off by his pen.”

“Himmler was also behind the original idea of setting up the women’s camps too,” Helm insists.
Heinrich Himmler at Dachau in 1936. (Friedrich Franz Bauer/Wikimedia Commons/German Federal Archive)

Heinrich Himmler at Dachau in 1936. (Friedrich Franz Bauer/Wikimedia Commons/German Federal Archive)

Although Himmler wasn’t the only person involved in the plans for the Final Solution, Helm claims that he did help oversee much of the process of setting up the camps in the East, which would eventually lead to the death of millions of Jews.

Himmler was also a regular visitor to the camp in Ravensbrück too, says Helm. “He visited the camps because he wanted them to be as self-sufficient as far as possible.”

Nor was Himmler’s decision to put the camps next to areas of natural beauty, such as lakes and trees, merely coincidental. Indeed, German forests played a central role in the mythology of the Heimat, or German soil. Take Buchhenwald, for example, one of the more famous Nazi concentration camps: its literal translation means Beech Forest.

“Many of the camps were [purposely] located in places of great natural beauty,” says Helm.

“Ravensbrück, for example, was located beside a lake. Other camps were similarly located in beautiful wooded areas. Himmler had read the literature on these historic sites. His idea was that nature would purify the German gene, and that the SS, and the Germans, would grow up pure and strong, like the trees in the woods.”

“Himmler believed that the blood would be pure if the seed was planted near these very pure sites of nature,” adds Helm.

‘Himmler believed that the blood would be pure if the seed was planted near these very pure sites of nature’

In the epilogue of this meticulously detailed book — which runs to over 700 pages in length — Helm spends considerable time and ink dissecting at length why those in positions of authority involved in these horrendous atrocities at Ravensbrück were never brought to justice.

The reasons are complicated. But one thing is certain: by 1948 the Allies had lost their appetite for punishing Nazis. Primarily because the Cold War had become the dominant theme on the intentional-political agenda.

And, from 1949 onwards, the main responsibility for investigating Nazi crimes was handed back to German courts, many of whom, presumably, had been Nazis just a few years previously.

Most notable among these perpetrators let off the hook were German industrialists. Especially, Helm argues, since their profits were needed to fight the Cold War.

Siemens, the German electrical manufacturer, which had a factory located just at the edge of Ravensbrück, from 1942 onwards, is one company that notoriously got off scott free for its complicity in knowledge of war crimes. It has never publicly admitted it knew of the exterminations happening at the camp.

“The gassing in Ravensbrück at this time was being kept secret,” says Helm. “But even still, Siemens continued to operate its factory.”

The idea that the killing was being hidden from the Siemens management and guards is laughable, Helm believes. Moreover, the evidence clearly displays that prisoners knew perfectly well that Ravensbrück had become a death camp.

“Siemens knew their own workers were prisoners, who at any given moment could be sent to their deaths,” says Helm.

“And yet, not a single management figure, or director, from Siemens has ever been brought to account for what happened in Ravensbrück.”

‘Siemens knew their own workers were prisoners, who at any given moment could be sent to their deaths’

Years later, though, as the extent of the Holocaust, and atrocities became clearer, there were strong moves — particularly with Jewish survivors based in Israel and international Jewish movements — for compensation to be paid out.

However, the figures are paltry, Helm believes, “especially given the extent to which Siemens was complicit in these crimes, and the way it sided and collaborated with the Nazis.”

The fact that the compensation only applied to Jewish victims too means the compensation paid out is not a true reflection of the crimes themselves either, Helm believes, especially since many of the victims were not Jews.

“It’s unbelievable that Siemens is unable to come out in the open and confront the crimes it was deeply complicit in,” says Helm.

Helm’s narrative concludes on a rather open-ended note. The story of Ravensbrück may have finally come out into the public domain after many years lying dormant, but this particular chapter of Nazi history, it appears, is not entirely complete.

Of the estimated 3,500 women guards who passed through Ravensbrück, only a fraction have ever come under investigation in the German courts, mainly because Germany still doesn’t keep a proper record of the numbers they have charged, says Helm.

“The system did not want to confront this subject. So very few of the guards from Ravensbrück were ever confronted or held to account for their actions,” says Helm.

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Freed from Auschwitz, UK survivors seeking reparations found a wall instead

Newly unveiled archives show British officials exhibited almost no compassion for Holocaust survivor applicants to a £1m. compensation fund jointly administered with West Germany

Germany-Auschwitz

A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January 1945 shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. (AP Photo/File)

LONDON — Between 1941 and 1944, Aron and Misa Cohen and their nine children were taken from Libya and held in a variety of Nazi-occupied areas, including several months in Bergen Belson, before being repatriated via Morocco. As records just released by the UK’s National Archives show, after the war the family moved to Rosh Pina and eventually applied to a special £1 million Holocaust compensation fund that was jointly administered by the British government and the government of West Germany.

As proof of their stay in Bergen Belsen, Cohen even — as his file shows — sent the fabric yellow star that he had been forced to wear in the camp. The empty envelope – he asked for its return — remains in his file.

On his application, Cohen also recorded his British bonafides. He attested that he was born in Benghazi, Libya, on December 12, 1894, and was “of British nationality by birth.” His wife, Misa, nee Rubin, was born in the same city on September 4, 1899, and was British because of her marriage.

However, in a note to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, their file says: “They state they were in Bergen Belsen from September 1943 until the end of that year… We should be interested to know if the Israeli authorities can provide any evidence of the Cohens’ confinement in Belsen. The International Tracing Service has been able to confirm some of the Cohens’ movements, but not their period in Belsen.”

Eventually the couple was given £458.15 — but nothing for their children.
Letter from UK official to Israeli Foreign Ministry about the application of Aron and Misa Cohen (Jenni Frazer/The Times of Israel)

Indeed, as the newly released files show, most of the 4,000 applicants to the special fund were bitterly disappointed as British bureaucracy and endless questioning of bona fides by Foreign Office officials meant that only 1,015 people got any money out of the scheme, which closed on March 31, 1966.

File after file, a pathetic paper trail, show the British erring on the side of cold rules and regulations rather than sympathy and compassion, with comments written in the notes such as “she is as much the victim of her own nerves as anything — the Nazis do not seem to have actually done anything directly against her.”

Months, and in some cases years, were spent assessing whether some prison camps in which people had been kept by the Nazis had the same degree of cruelty as concentration camps. Many of the applications were sent on to the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross to try to cross-match the claims of the applicants, though in some cases it proved difficult to impossible, depending on the surname.

At the archives’ unveiling last week, Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told The Times of Israel, “More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, we are still learning about this appalling period in history.

“The opening of these important historic archives will help to shed light on the post-Holocaust issues faced by survivors, as well as allowing us to read what was likely to be the first written account many survivors gave of their experiences. No doubt they will prove to be essential academic and educational resources,” said Pollock.

The Cohens were fortunate to get anything from the scheme. In the cases of other Jews who had settled in Israel, there were question marks over the exact nature of their British nationality, with Foreign Office officials wondering whether those who were “Palestinian” — that is, they had settled while the area was still under the rule of the British Mandate — qualified for the scheme at all.

Israel Levine of Hadera was caught between two bureaucracies with his application. He was born in London in 1905, but, aged five, was taken to Poland by his parents. He grew up there and joined the Polish army.

“Eventually, with the remnants of this army, I came to Palestine,” he wrote, adding bleakly: “In the meantime, my wife and five children were murdered by the Nazis.”

Applying for funds in July 1964, Levine wrote: “Now I am about 60, my health is not what it was, and but for the murder of my poor children, I would not have to be concerned for my old age. As you are certainly aware, the West German government pays certain indemnification as to victims of Nazi persecution and their dependents, and naturally, I applied for the compensation due to me for the murder of my children.

‘Eventually, I came to Palestine. In the meantime, my wife and five children were murdered by the Nazis’

“But this claim was refused on the grounds that I was not a fugitive in the sense of the German law as I, as a British subject, could always have gone, after the war, to the UK,” wrote Levine.

The fact that Britain ruled the area under the mandate at the time that Levine had arrived there made no difference to the West German authorities —and since his file does not record any payment made, it is more than likely that he did not receive any money from the British scheme, either.

Leon Greenman, who died in London in 2008, aged 97, was one of the best-known British Holocaust survivors, who spent many years in his retirement talking about the Shoah to generations of schoolchildren. The Jewish Museum in London’s permanent Holocaust gallery tells the story of Leon Greenman and his family.

But his Foreign Office file shows a scrappy, mulish and combative man who wrote dozens of letters and sought many meetings with MPs in his attempt to secure compensation for himself and the deaths of his wife, Esther, and three-year-old son, Barney, all of whom had been deported, first to Westerbork in the Netherlands and then to Auschwitz.

Family ShotGreenman had the misfortune to hold both British and Dutch nationality, though he was born in London. British officials regarded him as “a Dutch Jew” and, indeed, he was offered compensation by the Dutch government, which he rejected.

Official letters describe him as “an unbalanced man who appears to have only revenge for the death of his wife and child as his purpose for living – or so he says.”

Greenman was refused compensation under the Anglo-German scheme, and then tried, again unsuccessfully, to secure British government support in “bringing to justice two Dutch officials, the retired Swiss consul-general and the German commandant of Westerbork [concentration camp].”

The sense of frustration by the British officials is evident in the notes in his file: “Mr. Greenman is eligible to receive money from the Dutch and has been offered 5,000 Guilders but refuses to touch it. He is therefore barred from our scheme but I do not think he will accept this quietly. What can we do? We don’t want another interview!!!” Later, another official writes: “Mr. Greenman will almost certainly create trouble, no matter what we say.”

His MP, Arthur Lewis, took up his case, asking, pointedly: “Is HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] legally or morally justified in divesting themselves of responsibility for a British subject who was born in this country?”

‘Is HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] legally or morally justified in divesting themselves of responsibility for a British subject who was born in this country?’

Another MP who fought hard for compensation for the victims of Nazi persecution was the Conservative Airey Neave, who was assassinated in 1979 by an IRA bomb outside the House of Commons. Neave, famously an escaper from the Colditz prisoner-of-war camp, asked a question of Foreign Secretary Rab Butler in parliament in March 1964.

“Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very serious concern on both sides of the House that 19 years after the war no settlement has been reached about members of the British public who were in concentration camps? Will he see that in future this matter is dealt with at the highest level with the Federal Government [of West Germany]?” asked Neave.

Neave took up the case of Emily Gould, who applied for compensation on behalf of her late son, Terence. In April 1964, she wrote a heartfelt account of her son’s experience during the war.

“My son, Terence Gould, ex-RAF Warrant Officer, was the rear gunner in a Halifax bomber, which came down in flames over France on the night before D Day [June 6, 1944]. He was hiding with the Maquis [the French Resistance] for eight weeks until he was betrayed to the Germans, and put in Fresnes Prison where he went through three weeks of hell, expecting to be shot any time. The Germans knew they were airmen, but treated them like political prisoners.
The Oscar-nominated documentary “Liberators” falsely claimed a battalion of African-American soldiers had helped to free the Buchenwald concentration camp. (US Army, US Defense Visual Information Center, Image #HD-SN-99-02764, Wikimedia Commons)

“Meantime,” wrote Gould, “the Americans were advancing and the Germans decided to evacuate them. Then began a nightmare journey of five days, and they were packed into trucks, 70-80 in each truck, taking turns to sit down. They saw one of the fliers shot in the hand because he put it too near the barbed wire strung over the window. He was being attended to when he was told to leave the truck. He got out, and while walking along, two guards shot him in the back.

“My son described the utter bewilderment of the men when they got to Buchenwald… for punishment one was likely to be sent up to the Museum for a week — this was the laboratory where they treated human beings like guinea-pigs and inoculated them with loathsome diseases,” wrote Gould.

Terence Gould died, aged only 32, in 1948, almost certainly as a result of conditions developed from his wartime experiences. His mother received just £183.10 from the compensation scheme.

An applicant who did rather better was Tania Rosandic, the daughter of the renowned British Special Operations Executive agent, Violette Szabo, who was executed in Ravensbruck concentration camp after being tortured by the Gestapo in February 1945.

Szabo, whose heroic exploits in wartime France were recorded in the 1958 feature film, “Carve Her Name With Pride,” was born in Paris to a British father and French mother. Officials spent months trying to establish whether Szabo’s father, Charles Bushell, was really British.

Tania Szabo did not initially apply for compensation herself; instead one of her mother’s former colleagues in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, Mary Hamilton, told government officials she was “most anxious to help,” as Tania Rosandic’s father was killed at El Alamein shortly after she was born.

Once the application to the Ango-German scheme was made, Ministry of Pension officials were sent round to Tania Rosandic to see if she needed money. One, noting the success of the film about her mother (it starred Virginia McKenna), noted that “she did not seem to be in a poor way.”

Nevertheless Rosandic was finally granted interim compensation of £1,000 in 1966. A year later, she was given an additional £1,293 and 15 shillings.

The stories which emerge from the files are at times heartbreaking and — very occasionally — wryly amusing.
Letter from Gertrude Kuhnert complaining about size of award (Jenni Frazer/The Times of Israel)

Gertrude Kuhnert, a British Jew who was imprisoned first in Berlin and then taken to Theresienstadt, was profoundly dissatisfied with the £272 she received from the scheme. She complained: “It goes too far, to take money what [sic] was meant for British-born Nazi victims and pay the others as well. If one notices how many youngsters of today earn thousands of pounds with all their screaming and noise-making and some may even get the MBE [she was referring to the Beatles].”

But the smiles quickly dim when Kuhnert added: “I myself escaped the gas chamber only just and my brother was murdered by the Germans in Buchenwald.”

In another letter she wrote: “Some people suffer more in a shorter time like myself and some can stand it longer.” In pencil, an official has written: “Unfortunately, we can’t calculate on relative time!”

Red Cross Tracing FormElizabeth Margaret Spira was a nurse at the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna. A naturalized Briton, she was taken with patients to Theresienstadt where she saw that “children could not eat for fear [of] what we will do with them, as they had seen their parents never came out any more.” None of the children wanted to be clean, she said. In the end, she wrote, the nurses cleaned them up “only to send them back, to be gassed.”

Spira’s file contains a harrowing three-page testimony of life at Auschwitz and details of a visit by Eichmann, but despite such details, she was turned down for compensation.

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‘Time to rethink school trips to Nazi camps,’ Tel Aviv principal says

The principal of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv told Army Radio that the trips to Poland were becoming “social occasions rather than learning experiences.”

Jewish Girl on train tracksThe principal of a prestigious Tel Aviv high school made waves on Sunday when he told Army Radio that he had canceled students’ annual trip to the former Nazi death camps in Poland.

The principal of Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, which was founded before the state and was the first to teach solely in Hebrew, told Army Radio that the trips to Poland were becoming “social occasions rather than learning experiences.”

“I didn’t make the decision on my own,” said the principal, Dr. Ze’ev Dagani. “I did it with the support of the administrators and the parents. The sense is that the trip has become prohibitively expensive in recent years for most people. It’s not easy to spare NIS 5,000 for a six-day trip.”

“The important thing is to remember that there was a Holocaust, that we teach the students about the Holocaust, and that we make sure it doesn’t happen again – not here and not anywhere else.”

One of the highlights of the school year for Israeli teens is the organized trip to Poland, where students get first-hand view of what remains of the extermination camps used in the liquidation of European Jewry during the Holocaust.

The trips are considered important in inculcating elements of the Zionist ethos, specifically the refusal to be “led like lambs to the slaughter.”

Dagani’s decision could be considered controversial, although he remains adamant that there’s no need to fly all the way to Poland in order to internalize the lessons of the Nazi genocide.

“We need to really think if it’s necessary to fly there,” he said. “There are many youths who aren’t emotionally built to really grasp the extent of the horror. It’s too much for them, and I think it’s too early to send 16- and 17-year-olds to trips to Poland. It’s a trip that requires emotional and intellectual maturity.”

The trips to Poland have also been an economic boon for some agencies that have managed to parlay a handsome profit from them.

In January, the police announced that they were investigating Tour operators in Israel who had formed a “cartel” to fix prices for Israeli youth delegations to Poland.

Police and Anti-Trust Authority officers arrested nine suspects and seized bank accounts linked to the alleged scam.

Police said that tour operators who had recently been awarded government tenders to provide services for the youth delegations conspired to fix prices in order to prevent competition that could reduce the cost of the trips.

The suspects include the CEOs and owners of several tour operators – including some of the major travel agencies.

The suspects are accused of violating anti-trust laws as well as committing fraud and money laundering.

The investigation – which police say has been underway for a few months – involves at least six large Israeli tour operators who organize visits to Poland , during which Israeli school students visit death camps and other sites in the country to learn about the Holocaust.

In February, the Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee urged schools to cancel their annual youth delegations to Poland.

The committee convened for a discussion about high school class trips to Poland to visit key sites of the Holocaust and the many students who cannot afford to join these outings.

MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), the committee chairman, demanded that the Education Ministry offer subsidies for such trips for students in need.

“Until such time the committee is calling to suspend all the delegations and to do take every measure to ensure that no student is left behind whether it be a trip to Poland or any other educational activity,” Margi said.

MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who initiated the discussion, said the trips to Poland enrich the curriculum and provide students with added educational and moral value.

“But it cannot be that we will continue to agree that the delegations to Poland will only be for the rich,” Shmuli said.

“The fact that the right to touch the stones of Auschwitz are denied to a child because his parents do not have enough money is something that does not stop bothering me,” he said.

Ben Hartman and Lidar Grave-Lazi contributed to this report.

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Online DP camps collection is poster child of post-war Jewish rebirth

Birth StatisticsIn the years directly following World War II, more than 250,000 displaced Jewish people began to rebuild their lives. In the process of moving ahead after the horrors of the Holocaust, they renewed former religious, social, political and cultural interests while waiting in Central European displaced persons (DP) camps for permission to immigrate to other parts of the world.

For decades historiography tended to jump from the end of the Holocaust directly to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. However, in recent years, more attention has been paid to the experience of Jews who resided in the DP camps in Germany, Austria and Italy until 1952.

Currently, a digitization project by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is publishing an online collection of 1,178 posters and some 6,500 photographs attesting to the rebirth of Jewish communal life in the DP camps immediately following the war.

To date, images of two-thirds of the posters have been uploaded. They announce a wide array of events that took place in the DP camps, including sporting matches, political gatherings, cultural performances, holiday festivities and religious services. Some posters report on subjects like the high birthrates in the DP camps, the breakdown of DP camp populations by country of origin, and the variety of vocational training programs offered.

Critically, some of them reflect the keen awareness of DP camp residents of world events, especially the fight to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. One handwritten notice from 1947 tells residents of the Feldafing DP camp in Germany that they can send food packages to their relatives aboard the “SS Exodus,” the most famous ship carrying illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine that was sent back to Europe by the British.

Another poster, this one professionally designed and printed by the Zionist Poalei Zion organization in Germany, protests the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. It shows images of ships (presumably representing immigration), Haganah fighters and workers building the Land of Israel.

According to senior archivist Fruma Mohrer, the collection by YIVO workers of materials from the DP camps in the immediate post-war years was a continuation of the work the institute, founded in 1925 in Vilna, Poland, had been doing before the war.

“Before the war, YIVO had built up a vast network of collectors around the world to document Jewish life. Even during the war, people were sending things in to keep building the collection. So, as soon as the war was over, the collection of material in the DP camps was a natural continuation of the process,” Mohrer said.
Appeal to protest against the White Paper restricting immigration to Palestine and to support the Haganah and settlement in Eretz Israel. (Organized by Poalei Zion in Germany. Yiddish, Hebrew. © YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.)

“A call went out for material in the ‘YIVO News,’ issue number 16, in 1946. It was aimed at ordinary camp residents who knew about YIVO, and also to US Army chaplains and soldiers working in the DP camps,” she said.

The institute worked closely in the DP camps with the Central Historical Commission, which was established by survivors to collect original documents and personal testimonies about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

YIVO continued to acquire DP camp material for decades from survivors and their descendants. Although this is the first time that the artifacts will be available for widespread viewing online, the original documents have long been available to scholars and researchers in New York, where YIVO moved in 1940.

“YIVO organized exhibitions in New York of new acquisitions from the DP camps as early as right after the war,” Mohrer said.

While YIVO has the largest collection from the DP camps, others exist elsewhere. Among these are the archives of the Bergen-Belsen DP camp entrusted to Yad Vashem by Sam Bloch and Lilly Czaban, who were members of the camp’s leadership. Their daughter, Jean Bloch Rosensaft used that material as the basis for “Life Reborn,” a traveling exhibition about life in the DP camps. The same material was also used in creating a permanent exhibition at the museum at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp site near Hannover, Germany.

Rosensaft spearheaded the organization of a “Life Reborn” conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum some 15 years ago in an attempt to bring the DP camp experience to the fore.

“Back in 2000, the subject of the DP experience was not much on the radar, even of Holocaust museums,” explained Rosensaft, who sits on the USHMM collections and acquisitions committee.

A call went out for DP camp artifacts, many of which had unfortunately been considered ephemeral and disposed of by survivors and their children. Nonetheless, a significant amount of material was turned in and accessioned, ultimately redefining the scope of the USHMM’s collection, extending it to the mid-1950s.

Mohrer and her team at YIVO, including acting chief archivist Lyudmila Sholokhova and special projects coordinator Ettie Goldwasser, hope the online collection will be accessed not only by scholars, but also by educators and members of the general public.

“There is nothing like an original document to provide incontrovertible evidence of history,” Mohrer said.

The survivors may have come out of the death camps, but they were much alive. The posters attest to their resilience and will to create anew a vibrant, active and passionate Jewish cultural and communal life.

“All significant communications in the DP camps were done on paper. These posters parachute us back into the period. They provide a window into the experience,” Rosensaft said.

At the same time, these posters are relevant to life in the contemporary age of electronic communication.

“They are resonant today because we all live in contexts of trauma — terrorism, for example. We can look to these posters and see in each of them a manifestation of resilience, a transcending of evil and an embracing of life,” Rosensaft said.

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