Oregon passes law mandating schools teach about the Holocaust


(JTA) — Oregon will require its public school students to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill on Monday initiated by a 14-year-old girl who had struck up a friendship with a 92-year-old survivor. Claire Sarnowski, from suburban Lake Oswego, met Alter Wiener four years ago when she attended one of Wiener’s talks about surviving the concentration camps. Wiener died last year after he was struck by a car.

The measure mandates the instruction in response to spikes in anti-Semitic incidents across the country, CNN reported Tuesday.

Beginning in the 2020-21 term, schools must provide such teaching to “prepare students to confront the immorality of the Holocaust, genocide, and other acts of mass violence and to reflect on the causes of related historical events.” Schools also must encourage cultural diversity and emphasize the importance of protecting international human rights, according to the bill.

Sarnowski told lawmakers earlier this year that Holocaust education should be required in all schools to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

“Learning about genocide teaches students the ramifications that come with prejudice of any kind in society,” she said.

Eleven other states require Holocaust education in schools, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Washington state’s governor signed a law in April that “strongly encourages” teaching the Holocaust.


Daily Stormer publisher must pay $14 million to Jewish woman he told readers to harass


(JTA) — The publisher of a neo-Nazi website who instructed readers to troll a Jewish real estate agent must pay the victim $14 million, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch also recommended that the court order Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer to remove all posts and photos that he used to victimize Montana resident Tanya Gersh, her husband and her 12-year-old son in 2016. The website had called on readers to unleash a “troll storm” on Gersh.

Trolling is the act of harassing people on social network.  The Daily Stormer is one of the most-read white supremacist websites in the world.

In order to take effect, Lynch’s recommendations must be approved by the U.S. District Court, the New York Post reported.

Gersh said in a statement, “This lawsuit has always been about stopping others from enduring the terror I continue to live through at the hands of a neo-Nazi and his followers. I wanted to make sure that this never happens to anyone else,” she added.

She sued Anglin after she said her family received scores of threatening and anti-Semitic messages.

The threats began after Anglin accused Gersh of trying to force out the mother of a white nationalist from the mountain resort community of Whitefish.

Anglin unsuccessfully argued that his actions were protected under the First Amendment.

Of the recommended $14 million payout, Lynch said Gersh deserves $10 million in punitive damages and $4 million for lost earnings, pain and suffering.


The Nazi Who Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The surprising story of how the sixth Chabad rabbi made it out of Warsaw

When war broke out on Sept. 1, 1939, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was staying in Otwock, a resort town outside of Warsaw where he’d established a Chabad yeshiva. The Rebbe was suffering from multiple sclerosis, he was overweight and a heavy smoker. He walked with difficulty.

The journey from Otwock to Warsaw was only 60 kilometers, but perilous. The Luftwaffe’s Stutka war planes bombed and strafed traffic and destroyed rail lines, leaving mutilated bodies and dead horses littering the road. Roadside ditches were filled with Poles hiding from the planes, which they called “death on wings.”

The Rebbe arrived in Warsaw with his family and a group of students, hoping to catch a train to Riga, Latvia, where Mordecai Dubin, a Chabad follower and member of the Latvian parliament, had arranged Latvian citizenship for the rabbi and his family. But Rabbi Schneersohn found the Warsaw train station destroyed and was forced to seek shelter among Chabad followers in the city.

“They bombed all the Jewish neighborhoods, flattened them,” said Rabbi Joseph Weinberg, then a yeshiva student in Otwock who had followed the Rebbe to Warsaw. Rabbi Schneersohn went into hiding. “He would sit in the room writing memorim(articles) and his hand would shake from the bombing.” The Rebbe was taken from apartment to apartment in the beleaguered ghetto to avoid detection by the Nazis.


At the time, Chabad was a relatively insignificant Hasidic movement with a small following. But one of its followers, Rabbi Israel Jacobson, who was in charge of a small Chabad synagogue in Brooklyn, contacted a few others in his congregation. Mounting a campaign to save the Rebbe, they hired a young Washington lobbyist named Max Rhoade to advocate their cause, billing Rabbi Schneersohn as the world’s leading Torah scholar with a huge following.

Rhoade contacted congressmen, senators, government officials, presidential advisers, and even involved Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis in the hope of finding a way to save the Rebbe. His campaign soon gathered momentum.

Cables began to fly back and forth among Riga and the United States, Poland, and Germany, while in Warsaw bombs fell and the Nazis hunted for Jewish leaders.

On Sept. 22, U.S. Sen. Robert Wagner sent a telegram to U. S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull: “Prominent New York citizens concerned about whereabouts of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, … present location unknown.”

On Sept. 26, Mordecai Dubin wrote to Rabbi Jacobson in Brooklyn: “Save lives. Rabbi and family. Try every way. Every hour more dangerous. Answer daily what accomplished.”

On the same day, Phillip Rosen, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s office in Europe, wrote to the U.S. representative in Riga: “Greatly interested world famous rabbi Schneersohn … now Muranowska 32 Warsaw. Urge your doing utmost to effect his protection and removal to Riga …”

On Sept. 29, a Chabad supporter, attorney Arthur Rabinovitz, wrote to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “… am turning to you for any aid you can render possibly through Ben Cohen … feel justified in troubling you by extreme danger to Schneersohn’s life and his great moral worth to world Jewry.”

At the time, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, running for his third term, was reluctant to do anything overt to help alleviate the plight of Europe’s Jews. Isolationism was in full bloom as was a powerful pro-Nazi movement in the U.S. led by Father Charles Coughlin. Coughlin, a Canadian-born Catholic priest, rabid anti-Semite and admirer of Adolf Hitler, had a weekly radio program that at its height reached an audience estimated at tens of million of listeners. Roosevelt had his own doubts about the wisdom of relocating Jews to America.

However, Rhoade would not be deterred. He badgered Justice Brandeis and Roosevelt’s adviser Ben Cohen, who in turn put pressure on men like Henry Morgenthau, then economic adviser to Roosevelt. Saving the Rebbe became a major Jewish struggle, at least on the upper rungs of the communal ladder.

Cohen recalled that U.S. diplomat Robert Pell had attended the Evian conference on refugees in France in 1938 and had made friends with the German diplomat Helmut Wohlthat. On Oct. 2, Cohen wrote to Pell, then attached to the State Department’s European Affairs division: “I am turning to you for advice. I would appreciate any assistance you might be able to render.”

Pell then contacted U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull: “(Mr. Cohen) … appealed to me because of the arrangement which I had with Wohlthat last winter. … Wohlthat had assured me that if there was any specific case in which American Jewry was particularly interested, he would do what he could to facilitate a solution.”

According to Menachem Friedman of Bar Ilan University, “His (Wohlthat’s) interest was to maintain good relations with the Americans. And the price that had to be paid for these good relations was this Rabbi from Poland. And that wasn’t a high price.”

On Oct. 3, Hull sent a telegram to the U.S. consul in Berlin:“Wohlthat … might wish to intervene with the military authorities.”

The Roosevelt administration had decided to toss the Jewish community a bone to keep them quiet, and the bone was Rabbi Schneersohn.

According to Winfried Meyer of the Berlin Technical University, and an expert on the German military, “The only force who would be able to do anything was military intelligence since Warsaw was occupied by the German military and not by a civil administration, so Wohlthat contacted Admiral Wilhelm Canaris,” head of the Abwehr, German military intelligence.

Canaris called one of his officers, Major Ernst Bloch, a highly decorated soldier, into a meeting. According to Bryan Mark Rigg, author of Rescued From the Reich, Canaris told Bloch that he had been approached by the U.S. government to locate and rescue the head of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. “You’re going to go up to Warsaw and you’re going to find the most ultra-Jewish Rabbi in the world, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak Schneersohn, and you’re going to rescue him. You can’t miss him, he looks just like Moses.”

The Roosevelt administration had decided to toss the Jewish community a bone to keep them quiet, and the bone was Rabbi Schneersohn.

Major Ernst Bloch was a career spy. He’d joined the German army at 16, been severely wounded in WWI, and stayed in the army after the war. He’d been assigned to the commercial division that spied on visiting businessmen. Bloch was also half-Jewish. His father was a Jewish physician from Berlin who, like many other German Jews in that period, had converted to Christianity. Bloch’s mother was Aryan. “It was only by chance that he was half-Jewish,” said Meyer.

“He was what they call an assimilated half-Jew,” said Bloch’s daughter, Cornelia Schockweiler, a practicing Buddhist living in Mountain View, California. “He was not religious. He did not impart any religious feeling in me at all. He was a professional soldier who spent most of his life in the military. If Canaris told him to do something he would do it, no questions asked.”

Bloch was called a michlinge by the Germans. “The term michlinge was used for mutts, dogs, crossbreeds, a horrible term,” explained Bryan Rigg. Rigg estimates that 60,000 half-Jews and 90,000 quarter-Jews served in the German armed forces during WWII.

Winfried Meyer contends that Field Marshal Hermann Goering also knew about the rescue operation of the Rebbe since Wohlthat was one of Goering‘s closest associates. “Goering’s and Canaris’ common interest was to prevent the war in Poland from escalating into a world war, hoping that Roosevelt would arrange talks between Germany and Britain in order to save peace. They were glad to do the American government a favor by rescuing Rabbi Schneersohn.”

Bloch enlisted two other soldiers from the Abwehr and traveled to German-occupied Warsaw. According to Rigg, “He would go up to ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews, wearing a Nazi uniform with swastikas, and say, ‘I’m looking for the Rebbe.’ And they’d say to him, ‘Yeah, and we want to shave off our beards and join the German army.’ Then they would walk away.”

On Oct. 24, attorney Arthur Rabinovitz again appealed to Justice Louis Brandeis: “Received cable from Latvia … Rabbi Schneersohn at … Bonifraterska 29, Warsaw.” That address was passed on to Bloch.


November was a cruel month in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jews were ordered to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothing. There was little to eat. The Rebbe and his followers were hiding out from the Nazis.

Meanwhile, Ernst Bloch was scouring Warsaw for Rabbi Schneersohn. But when Bloch and his men arrived at Bonifraterska 29 they found the building had been destroyed.

On Nov. 13, Pell communicated information from Wolhthat’s assistant to Chabad lobbyist Max Rhoade: “Building at address given was completely destroyed. Impossible to ascertain whether Rabbi Schneersohn was in the building.”

The rabbi was losing weight and his health was fading. On Nov. 14, Rhoade sent a telegram to the Red Cross in Switzerland: “German military officer detailed to locate Rabbi Joseph Issac Schneersohn … Schneersohn not apprised officer’s mission. Hope you can devise method of communicating information to Schneerson … detailing of German officer done at request of Schneersohn’s friends … urgent … take advantage opportunity.”

“A telegram arrived that the Rebbe should turn himself over to the Gestapo,” said Rabbi Weinberg. The “Gestapo” was Major Ernst Bloch.

Another telegram was sent to Poland, hoping it would reach Rabbi Schneersohn. “German Military officer detailed to locate Joseph Issac Schneersohn Bonifraterska 29, old address Muranowsa 21, and also provide him safe egress from Poland to Riga.”

With great trepidation, the Rebbe told a messenger to contact Bloch.

Rabbi Schneersohn’s grandson, the late Barry Gurary, then a teenager, was in the room when Bloch’s men arrived. “It was so overwhelming. As soon as we got to the door they rushed right in,” remembered Gurary, a retired physicist, sitting in an easy chair in his New York apartment. “There was primarily one guy, and he used every dialect of German that you could think of. During the time the soldiers were there my grandfather was calm and composed on the outside. He was a sick man and it got to him after a while. He was a very strong personality, but not very strong physically. He was exhausted.”

Barking orders, Major Bloch commandeered a truck and loaded the Rebbe and his family aboard. “Bloch had to get the Rebbe out of Warsaw. He decided the best way to do this was to take him to Berlin, to throw the SS off the track,” said Bryan Rigg. Bloch put the Rebbe and his family on a train to Berlin.

The SS, run by Reinhard Heydrich, was highly suspicious of Canaris. Heydrich wanted to absorb the Abwehr into the SS. Should Heydrich’s SS get their hands on the Rebbe before the Abwehr, arrest and death were certain.

Gurary described the harrowing escape. “We had to go through various military checkpoints. with one person who was our escort. We marveled at his way of handling things.” The Rebbe and the other 18 in his entourage were dressed as Hasidic Jews, beards, sidelocks, women in wigs and covered hair. No disguise was possible. Bloch claimed they were prisoners. And he was on a top-secret mission.

“On the train … if a conductor came over, he (Bloch) would handle the conversation. The difficulty was making sure nobody kicked us out of the compartment we were in. I remember one episode when an angry German officer came up to us and said, ‘Why are these Jews sitting in the compartment when the officers are in the corridor?’ Bloch had to do quite a bit of explaining, and he did.”

“Once in Berlin,” said Rigg, “the Rebbe and his family were taken to the Jüdische Gemeinde, the Jewish community center in the Jewish quarter. There he met the Lithuanian ambassador to Germany who provided the Rebbe and his group with Lithuanian visas. The next day Bloch escorted them to the Latvian border and bid them farewell. The group continued to Riga and waited there for visas to the United States.”

“Crossing the Latvian border sure felt good,” said Barry Gurary. “We didn’t say a word. We were very quiet.” Only after they crossed, said Gurary, did they celebrate.


On Dec. 17, just over three months after the war began, Mordecai Dubin wrote to Rabbi Jacobson in Brooklyn, “Rabbi and family arrived well Riga.”

Next came the struggle to get the Rebbe into the United States.

Again, pressure was put on the Roosevelt administration by Justice Brandeis, Ben Cohen, and others. This was opposed by Breckenridge Long, then head of the Visa Section of the State Department. Long, an anti-Semite, suspected that any immigrant from Europe was a spy.

However, political pressure prevailed. A 1921 exemption to the visa quota of immigrants from Europe was invoked by the Rebbe’s advocates to allow him into the United States. The Rebbe was granted a visa as a religious “minister” with an active congregation awaiting him in Brooklyn and a bank account with $5,000 in it. Long reluctantly granted the visa.

The Rebbe arrived in the United States by ship in 1940 to great fanfare. A similar exemption was later applied to his son-in-law, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who arrived with his wife from Marseilles in 1941.

In 2010, two Israelis applied to Yad Vashem to recognize Wilhelm Canaris as a Righteous Among the Nations for saving Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. One was Rabbi Baruch Kaminsky from Kfar Chabad, and the other was Dan Orbach, then a young scholar at Harvard.

According to Orbach, “The Abwehr, German military intelligence, was the center of anti-Nazi activity and the majority of the espionage unit, especially the head of the unit, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and his assistant Hans Oster, were members of the underground.” One of the Abwehr men, Hans Von Dohnanyi, was recognized as a righteous gentile by Yad Vashem, but not Canaris. Von Dohnanyi, Oster and Canaris were all executed by the Nazi regime before the end of the war.

Major Ernst Bloch was ousted from the Abwehr after a failed attempt on Hitler’s life that Bloch had no part in. He joined the civil guard defending Berlin against the Allies. He was killed during the fighting. When asked if she thought her father should be honored for his role in saving the Rebbe, Bloch’s daughter, who remembers being bounced on Wilhelm Canaris’ knee, said, “Should people like my father and Canaris who served in the army under Hitler, and maybe, on the side, tried to do something good, should they be recognized? I don’t know. Maybe not?”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson went on to become the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the most influential figures in the history of postwar American Judaism. As professor Menachem Friedman said, “After the war the western world was a different place. And in this world Lubavitch found a very central and important niche, so much so that if Chabad didn’t exist, someone would have had to create it.”


In North Macedonia, unearthed headstones shed new light on community the Nazis destroyed

As more than 120 of their relatives were shipped to the Treblinka death camp, the family was spared because of a set of unusual circumstances, including a typhus outbreak. Four of the five family members were physicians. The Nazis and the Bulgarian occupation forces needed all the help they could get to curb the outbreak in North Macedonia, a former part of Yugoslavia that is today a landlocked nation north of Greece.

Eighteen years after World War II, though, tragedy caught up with the Abravanels. Three of the five survivors were killed in the 1963 earthquake that devastated Skopje, now the capital of North Macedonia. The only survivors were an elderly couple and their 7-year-old granddaughter.

Rachel Shelly Levi-Drummer speaking at a Holocaust commemoration event with Israel's Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze'ev Elkin in Bitola, North Macedonia on March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Rachel Shelly Levi-Drummer speaking at a Holocaust commemoration event with Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin in Bitola, North Macedonia, March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

The surviving couple, Haim and Berta Abravanel, lost their son, daughter and son-in-law in the calamity. Their granddaughter, Rachel Shelley Levi-Drummer, lost both her parents, an uncle and her home during the earthquake. She immigrated to Israel with her grandparents, broken and hollowed by their loss, soon after the earthquake struck. Many view their departure as the end of centuries of Jewish presence in Bitola.

But more than half a century after that tragic end, Levi-Drummer and others are returning to Bitola — the modern name of the city once known as Monastir — through several successful projects that are lifting out of oblivion the nearly extinct Jewish community of North Macedonia.

In March, the permanent display of a multi-million dollar Holocaust museum — the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of North Macedonia — was inaugurated in Skopje. It contains rare items such as a German tank engine like the ones whose fumes were used to kill Jews and prisoners of wars, and wagon carts like the ones used to ship Macedonian Jews to their deaths.

Historian Michael Berenbaum, center, speaking to designer Edward Jacobs, left, and a Romanian diplomat at Skopje's Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of North Macedonia on March 11, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Historian Michael Berenbaum, center, speaking to designer Edward Jacobs, left, and a Romanian diplomat at Skopje’s Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of North Macedonia, March 11, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

The museum also has scrolls with the names of 7,144 Macedonian Holocaust victims, of whom only about 150 survived. The Jewish community of Bitola, North Macedonia’s second-largest city, had an even lower survival than the national one: Only one and a half percent of Bitola’s 3,400-odd Jews survived.

In 2015, Levi-Drummer, now the academic secretary of Israel’s Bar Ilan University, and Dan Oryan, Israel’s ambassador to North Macedonia, along with others began a project to clean up Bitola’s Jewish cemetery — an 11-acre hillside whose gate boasts an impressive arch, but that essentially had been used as a waste dump before 2015.

Oryan’s involvement in the case is unusual — Israeli ambassadors focus on bilateral ties and very few of them take an active lead in restoring Jewish heritage.

But “there was an amazing, heartrending story that needed to be told here,” said Oryan, whom both Levi-Drummer and Balashnikov credited with a seminal role in restoring Bitola’s Jewish cemetery.

As for Levi-Drummer, her orphanhood to a large degree made her return to Bitola, where her grandfather ran a large hospital, she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Following the earthquake, “my grandparents and I were the only branch left standing on this enormous fallen tree,” she said. “My memories, roots and what used to be my home brought me back here.”

Levi-Drummer was scheduled to be in Skopje with her parents when the 1963 earthquake struck, on July 26. But her grandmother, Berta, kept her a day later than planned in Bitola because she had not finished making a dress for her granddaughter. Her grandparents did not immediately tell her about the earthquake as her grandfather searched for her parents and his son.

He and other diggers found their bodies under a totally collapsed building. He had them shipped to Israel for burial.

Currently, cleaners at the Bitola Jewish cemetery have unearthed only 40 percent of its estimated 10,000 headstones – weather-resistant slabs of stone, some of them dating back to the 15th century, that were placed flat on the ground in the Sephardic tradition.

The headstones turned out to be unusual in other ways, too. Instead of the terse epitaphs characteristic of Jewish tombstones today, the ones unearthed in Bitola contained rich descriptions and even poems about the deceased.

This verbosity isn’t unique to Bitola: It can be found in various Sephardic Jewish cemeteries, including ones in Hamburg, Germany and even as far east as present-day Ukraine.

But in Bitola’s case, these epitaphs became the only source of information about victims who perished in obscurity.

Bela Balashnikov, 76, learned in 2015 the only information she has about her great-grandfather, Matityahu Shmaya Zarfati, from an epitaph exposed in the cleanup.

A headstone at the Jewish cemetery of Bitola, North Macedonia pictured on Aug. 7, 2015. Wikimdeia/Liad Malone)

“I was so moved to learn that he was a donor to communal causes, that he cared about the poor, that he was a learned man,” said Balashnikov, whose Zionist parents escaped the Holocaust when they moved to pre-state Israel in 1932. “Before the cleanup, I knew only his name. My parents wouldn’t speak of the people they lost. It was too painful.”

His poetic Hebrew epitaph from 1901, featuring Aramaic and written in rhymes, reads: “Inside this lump of earth lies a man of great descent … who studied the Talmud and Torah, the good and honest, his hands were never without a book. Then came the Angel of death before the due date and left his wife and sons bereaved. He died in the prime of his life.”

Another epitaph, of Esther Calderon who died in 1891, noted in remarkable candor that she had visited Jerusalem twice and tried to live there but never acclimated. She then returned to Bitola to live out her life in penury, the text says.

According to Levi-Drummer, this openness is typical of the Jews of Bitola, which is today a quiet and ornate city with a developed café culture but few tourists.

“It was a warm Sephardic community with a lot tolerance that basically functioned like an extended family,” she said of Bitola’s Jews.

According to Balashnikov, matriarchs, rather than men, had the ultimate say in many Jewish families in Bitola.

None of the Bitola community’s buildings — it had several synagogues — survived World War II and the subsequent communist rule when North Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia.

The sudden and radical annihilation of Macedonian Jewry — within days, the Nazis achieved there their highest death rate anywhere — represents an unusual challenge for activists seeking to preserve the memory of this extinct community, which is believed to have settled in Bitola not later than the 3rd century CE.

“Family lore was lost because whole families were executed together,” Levi-Drummer said.

The pain of the loss was so traumatic that it made the few survivors suppress their communal memories, she added.

Michael Bar-Zohar, an Israeli Bulgaria-born historian, lamented the obscurity of Macedonian Jewry in his 1998 book, ”The Trains Left Empty.”

The area’s Jews “became victims for the second time after their death,” he wrote. “Their sacrifice and suffering were washed in waves of cold indifference. Their memory had been erased as though they had never lived on the golden shores of the Aegean Sea or in the green valleys of turbulent Macedonia. In life and death, they were the orphans of the Balkans.”

Bar-Zohar’s account isn’t entirely accurate, according to Hassan Jasari, a Muslim from Bitola who says his late uncle risked his life to bring water to Jews awaiting their deportation. Hassan Jasari participates each year in the annual March of the Living Holocaust commemoration event in Bitola. Pointing at the Israeli flags of other participants of the event in March, he said, “It’s great to see this flag waving here, of the greatest country on Earth.”

Hassan Jasari, whose Muslim uncle helped Jews awaiting their deportation, greeting participants of the annual Holocaust commemoration event in Bitola, North Macedonia on March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Hassan Jasari, whose Muslim uncle assisted Jews awaiting their deportation, greeting participants of the annual Holocaust commemoration event in Bitola, North Macedonia, March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Macedonia’s Jews were detained without food or water for about three days at a disused tobacco factory before being transported for days by train to Nazi-occupied Poland.

“By the time they arrived at Treblinka, they were probably eager to cram into that gas chamber believing it was a shower where they could drink and wash away the filth they had been forced to live in,” said Balashnikov, who lost several uncles there.

Levi-Drummer, Balashnikov and others interviewed for this article believe that the Abravanels were “the last Jewish family who left Bitola.”

Yet Bitola is currently home to Maria Behar, 60, and her son, Zoran. She said they are the last Jews living in Bitola – and they are preparing to leave for Israel following the death of her late husband. He is not buried at a Jewish cemetery. Additionally, an Israeli family recently moved to Bitola, where they have businesses.

 Maria and Zoran Behar visit the Jewish cemetery of their native Bitola, North Macedonia on March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Maria and Zoran Behar visit the Jewish cemetery of their native Bitola, North Macedonia, March 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Notwithstanding, Balashnikov and others agree that “the Jewish community of Bitola no longer exists, and will probably never return,” she said. “At least now the world knows a little more that they even ever existed.”


Yad Vashem changes Holocaust memorial prayers to include North African victims

Prayer for the perished said to be updated on museum’s website following query from 12th grader; it now refers to ‘Diaspora’ rather than ‘European Diaspora’

Israeli soldiers stand below a monument at a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 11, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers stand below a monument at a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 11, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yad Vashem has changed two of its key prayers for Holocaust Remembrance Day — the Yizkor prayer and El Maleh Rahamim — to include Jewish victims from North Africa, a report said Tuesday.

The change came after Yael Robinson, a 12th grade student from Zichron Yaakov whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor from Tripoli, Libya, took issue last year with the fact that the local remembrance ceremony did not mention victims outside of Europe, Haaretz reported.

Robinson wrote to the ceremony organizers, saying: “It was strange for me that the Yizkor read at the ceremony only mentioned Jews who died in Europe, and the El Maleh Rahamim prayer again mentions the Holocaust in Europe but doesn’t mention the Holocaust in North Africa even once,” noting that she meant no disrespect toward the victims in Europe.

People stand still on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv as a two-minute siren is sounded across Israel to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 12, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A group called “A Movement for a Clean Memory” took on responsibility for the organization of Robinson’s local ceremony and received a copy of the letter. Upon closer examination of the issue, it was discovered that the prayers used were taken from the website of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

According to Haaretz, the Yad Vashem website already has the updated version of the prayers.

In the Yizkor prayer, a sentence that previously recalled those in the “European Diaspora” who perished in the Holocaust now reads just “Diaspora.”

Likewise, the word “European” was removed from the El Maleh Rahamim prayer when referring to the six million victims of the Holocaust.

“There is no one version of the Yizkor prayer and it’s known that at memorial ceremonies for various communities and organizations, they adapt it as is fitting,” Yad Vashem said in a statement to Haaretz.

“In general, at the different ceremonies conducted by Yad Vashem, this prayer is not used. In response to a query regarding one of the versions on the Yad Vashem website, which includes the words, ‘all the communities of Beit Israel in the European Diaspora,’ the text was changed to ‘all the communities of Beit Israel in the Diaspora,’ which is more accurate.”

Before Robinson’s grandfather died, he told her that as a child he saw his father arrested and thrown “like a sack of potatoes” into a truck that took him to the ghetto, from where he escaped and returned home a few weeks later.

“When they wanted to take his father, he tried to grab hold of him so he wouldn’t go, and the German, who had metal tips on the edge of his shoe, kicked him, and until his dying day he had the scars,” she said, according to Haaretz.


“With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten,” said Professor Dina Porat.

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremo

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living.. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

In a time where first-hand accounts of the Holocaust are disappearing and antisemitism is increasing, remembrance of the event that wiped out around six million Jews is getting an important new spark of life in the form of artificial intelligence (AI).

At American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles, a five day Hackathon (June 30 – July 4) involving 170 Jewish-American and Israeli-American teens – and teens from Israel – was held to create new ways to keep stories of the Holocaust alive, according to a press release by the Israeli American Council (IAC).

This year’s annual IAC Hackathon saw teens meet with Holocaust survivors to learn their stories, and then develop solutions in teams to make those stories highly accessible and meaningful to the public. It was the first Hackathon to approach Holocaust remembrance efforts through development of AI technology.

The Hackathon brought in volunteer executives from across America, who lent their expertise, knowledge, and experience to the teens.

The teens developed both online and offline products, but none were more impressive than the winning team, ConneXt, who invented an app with a multitude of attributes. The app includes tabs called Journey, Chat, Bios, and Share; these would allow users to form strong connections with personal stories from the Holocaust. The Journey tab gives users the option to select the age, origin, and path of a survivor. Through the Chat feature, users could message the Holocaust survivor they choose; users would receive AI-crafted responses based on programming associated with that specific survivor. This type of AI response would allow the survivor’s story to live on long after they pass. The app’s Share tab would serve as a basis for a petition to change Holocaust education standards – teaching the event is currently only required in six US states. The change would make Holocaust education mandatory in all 50.

According to a survey conducted by Schoen Consulting for the Claims Conference on Holocaust memory, 66% of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz.

Tel Aviv University Professor Dina Porat, who served as a judge at the Hackathon’s demo day, relayed a message that affirmed the importance of the new AI tech, “With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten.”


Meant to help Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, the conference remains a bitter indictment of the world community

Failure of Evian Conference remembered, 81 years later

evian conference 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eighty-one years ago, on the cusp of World War II, then-US president Franklin D. Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference in France in a bid to deal with mass Jewish immigration from Europe in the face of antisemitism and hatred.

The conference took place between July 6 and July 14, 1938, several months after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, and in both countries the Nuremberg Laws were in full swing, leaving Jews, especially in Germany and Austria, with two choices: to flee or stay and face continued persecution.

The question at the time was, where could they escape to?

Roosevelt invited representatives from 32 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Canada, six small European democratic nations, several Latin American countries, as well as Australia, and New Zealand.

“When he proposed the conference, the president made it clear that no country would be forced to change its immigration quotas, but would instead be asked to volunteer changes,” an information pamphlet on Yad Vashem’s website explained.

As the conference wore on, the reality set in: no country was willing to open its doors to protect the Jews, each coming up with different excuses as to why they are unable to change their policy.

‘Green Book’ producer Charles Wessler helping establish new Warsaw Ghetto museum

Hollywood producer posts video asking anyone with artifacts from site to donate them to new museum opening in Polish capital

Charles B. Wessler arrives at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Charles B. Wessler arrives at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

JTA — Along with a group of contributors, Hollywood producer Charles B. Wessler is working on a new museum on the Warsaw Ghetto — and he’s asking for help.

In a video message posted Thursday, the “Green Book” producer asked anyone with artifacts from the Warsaw Ghetto to donate it to a new museum set to open in the Polish city in 2023.

Wessler got involved in the museum during a private visit to Warsaw last month, when he met the museum’s director, Albert Stankowski, and offered to help with collecting materials for the opening.