Obama Administration Awards $12M for Assistance to Holocaust Survivors

The Obama administration has awarded $12 million for assistance to Holocaust survivors.

The allocation from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Jewish Federations of North America, to be disbursed over five years, is part of an initiative launched in late 2013 by Vice President Joe Biden to address the needs of survivors in the United States, a quarter of whom live below the poverty line.

Combined with matching private funds, the approximately $2.5 million per year over the five years “will support $4.1 million in programming annually for organizations that help Holocaust survivors,” the JFNA said. According to JFNA, the funds will be used to advance “innovations in person-centered, trauma-informed supportive services for Holocaust survivors.”

“With this award, we will be able to advance our efforts to provide crucial services to vulnerable survivors, including those living in poverty, those in the Orthodox Jewish community and those from the former Soviet Union,” Mark Wilf, the chairman of the JFNA’s National Holocaust Survivor Initiative, said in a statement.

“These are our mothers and our fathers, our teachers and our mentors,” he said. “They deserve to live their remaining years in dignity, and this award will help make that hope a reality.”

The JFNA statement also thanked congressional sponsors of the funding, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

After Biden launched the initiative in December 2013, the White House in 2014 named a special envoy to the community to coordinate volunteer activities to assist the survivors.

Some 130,000 Holocaust survivors are living in the United States, according to U.S. government estimates.

Wilf, a co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings, helped organize the distribution this week of hearing aids to about 100 people in the New York area — more than 20 of them Holocaust survivors — at Yankee Stadium in New York.

The hearing aids, USA Today reported, were provided by the Starkey Hearing Foundation, with backing from JFNA, the Wilf Family Foundations, the NFL’s Vikings and the New York Yankees.

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Giant Nazi Banner for Film Sparks Outrage in French City

(JTA) — A large Nazi banner unfurled in Nice, France, caused an outcry among locals and tourists.

The red banner with a swastika hung from the Palais de la Prefecture on Monday and Tuesday, during the filming of an adaptation of Joseph Joffo’s Holocaust memoir “A Bag of Marbles.”

“People started screaming,” tourist Andrew Gentry told BBC News. “They were really agitated.”

According to BBC News, the prefecture insisted it made efforts prior to Monday to alert people and even warned the city’s Jewish community. Nevertheless, many onlookers were puzzled.

“There was nothing to explain what was going on,” Gentry said. “The scene was just surreal.”

Some people started taking selfies in front of the banner.

During the war, German Waffen SS chief Alois Brunner stayed in the Hotel Excelsior in Nice to plan round-ups of Jews. The Palais de la Prefecture, which is being filmed to represent the Hotel Excelsior, said in a statement that it was an “honor” to play a part in remembering history.

“A Bag of Marbles” describes Joffo’s journey from Nazi-occupied Paris to a safer city in the southeast of France.

A French film adaptation was released in 1975. The remake is being directed by Canadian director Christian Duguay.

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Gabe Friedman

‘Monumental and Noble’ Primo Levi Anthology to Hit Shelves

AP_84121001101-965x543Auschwitz survivor’s widely acclaimed complete works took 17 years to compile, runs 3,000 pages

NEW YORK (AP) — The fall’s most ambitious literary release took 17 years to complete, runs more than 3,000 pages, draws upon the talents of more than a dozen translators and has a list price of $100.

It also features an introduction from Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

“The Complete Works of Primo Levi” is a 3-volume set of writings by the late Italian author and Auschwitz survivor whose memoir “If This is a Man” remains a standard work of Holocaust literature. The anthology was conceived in 1998 by W.W. Norton & Company executive editor Robert Weil, who had had surprising success with a two-volume compilation of Russian author Isaac Babel and thought Levi a worthy follow-up.

“But if the publisher had known back in 1998 how long this would take I would never have gotten it approved,” Weil said during a recent interview.

Levi was world famous at the time of his death (widely believed a suicide), in 1987, but his work in the US suffered from the random treatment given to so many foreign-language authors. At least seven publishers had rights to various editions and the quality of translations was erratic enough that new translations were commissioned for virtually all of the books. Many stories and poems had never been collected in English before.

Literary works in general depend on critics’ support and strong reviews are especially vital for “The Complete Works of Primo Levi,” which like a 4-hour movie needs to be regarded as something extraordinary, as an event. So far, reviewers have duly applauded. The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda praised it as “old-school publishing on a grand scale,” while James Wood of The New Yorker called it a “monumental and noble endeavor.”

Estimating that he has devoted more than 6,000 emails to the Levi project, Weil brought in a wide range of collaborators. To oversee the new translations and work on some of the books, he recruited New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein, already known to many readers for her English-language editions of the novels of Elena Ferrante. Other contributors include authors Simon Rich and Jenny McPhee, and, for Levi’s poetry, Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and a leading translator of Italian verse.

Morrison’s participation wasn’t planned when Weil thought of the Levi anthology and came about through a conversation in early 2014 with Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards. Augenbraum recommended that Weil contact the author of “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye” and other novels, citing her singular gift for capturing “the human cost of holocaust,” he told The Associated Press in a recent email.

According to Weil, Morrison initially turned him down because she had other writing commitments. Weil responded by sending Morrison a package of Levi books, plus an essay he had written about him. Within three weeks, Morrison changed her mind.

“She was hugely enthused about his writings,” Weil said.

Levi, born in 1919, was a promising young chemist and member of an anti-Fascist organization when arrested late in 1943 and the following February stuffed by the Nazis with hundreds of others on a train to Auschwitz. “At Auschwitz I became a Jew,” he would recall. “The consciousness of feeling different was forced upon me.”

Russian troops liberated Auschwitz early in 1945 and after months in a Soviet transit camp Levi returned to Turin, where he soon began writing “If This is a Man.” The book was published in Italy in 1947, but took more than a decade to find an international audience, only reaching the United States in 1959.

Over the last quarter century of his life, Levi was acclaimed for the force and clarity of his prose, for the welding of lyricism, wisdom, imagination and logic. He proved gifted not just at nonfiction, but poetry, short fiction and with such novels as “The Wrench” and “If Not Now, When?” In “The Periodic Table,” he told the story of his life through chapters dedicated to gold, silver and other elements.

In her introduction to the complete works, Morrison notes that “The triumph of human identity and worth over the pathology of human destruction glows virtually everywhere in Levi’s writing.”

“Primo Levi understands evil as not only banal but unworthy of our insight — even of our intelligence, for it reveals nothing interesting or compelling about itself,” Morrison writes. “It has merely size to solicit our attention and an alien stench to repel or impress us. For this articulate survivor, individual identity is supreme; efforts to drown identity inevitably become futile.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.

French School Brands Non-Pork Eating Jews, Muslims

al-taqwaStudents told to wear red, yellow disks around their necks at lunchtime in move likened to Nazi Germany

A French school recently directed its Jewish and Muslim students to wear yellow or red disks around their necks during lunchtime, drawing fierce condemnation from parents and local politicians.

Children at the Piedalloues primary school in Auxerre, Burgundy who do not eat pork were told to wear the red marker in the cafeteria, while those who forgo meat altogether were branded with the yellow sign, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

Parents and local authorities expressed outrage at the move, likening it to the yellow star in Nazi Germany.

“It’s revolting. It reminds you of the darkest times. Practices like this are not acceptable,” said local council member Malika Ounes. “No one has the right to impose this on children.”

Council spokesman Christian Sautier said the “isolated, clumsy and unfortunate initiative” lasted one day before it was withdrawn.

“It was put into effect by canteen staff without informing local authorities, who ended it immediately,” he said.

France has been grappling with how to reconcile religious beliefs with secular values when it comes to pork in school lunches. After banning Muslim headscarves in classrooms in 2004, France is now tackling what to put on the plates of observant Muslim and Jewish schoolchildren, who by tradition don’t eat pork.

Schools often offer pork substitutes, but nothing mandatory nationwide. In 2008, Lyon became the first major city to impose an alternative meatless menu in schools. In recent months, several mayors of medium-sized towns have announced their intention to do the same.

France is home to both western Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 5 million, and largest Jewish population.

AP contributed to this report.


Did Dismantling of States Make the Worst of the Holocaust a Reality?

In two generations, we have witnessed a massive shift in our attitude toward the Holocaust: from regarding it as incomprehensible, defying human understanding, to trying to construct rigorous, often competing historical explanations for its causes and contours.

There has been no shortage of such explanations in recent years — among them Daniel Goldhagen’s invocation of Nazi Germany’s “eliminationist anti-Semitism,” Christopher Browning’s analysis of the brutalized, peer-pressured “ordinary men” who did the killing, and Gotz Aly’s emphasis on the German citizenry’s desire for plunder.

Now comes Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University and the author of “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” to stress the importance of “statelessness” in facilitating the mass murder of European Jews.

Like “Bloodlands,” which dealt with the killing of an estimated 14 million people in Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945, “Black Earth” draws on archival sources in Russian, Polish, Yiddish and other languages. (Publicity materials credit Snyder with reading 10 European languages.)

That makes “Black Earth,” whose title refers literally to the fertile soil of Ukraine and symbolically to the graves it would contain, an exceedingly erudite book. It is also an oddly constructed one, amalgamating several loosely related topics and sometimes overstating its undeniably interesting claims.

Snyder begins with a somewhat novel reinterpretation of Hitler’s rhetoric and aims. He digresses into a baroque discussion of prewar Polish politics. In the heart of the book, he explores relationships among anarchy, anti-Semitism, nationalism and mass murder in a variety of European countries. He then attempts a sketchy typology of Holocaust rescuers. He warns, finally, that climate change, economic scarcity and the desire for scapegoats might prompt future genocides.

Rather than painting Hitler as the ultimate German pan-nationalist, Snyder views the dictator as a staunch opponent of nation states, including, at times, his own. “To Hitler,” Snyder writes, “his fellow Germans were of interest only insofar as they could be rallied to join a mindless war for future racial prosperity.”

Snyder argues that Hitler thought not in political but in ecological terms — regarding Jews not as an inferior race, but as a global threat and as the paradoxically powerful bearers of an “insidious universalism.” He writes: “Since politics was nature, and nature was struggle, no political thought was possible…. Hitler’s destiny, as he saw it, was to redeem the original sin of Jewish spirituality and restore the paradise of blood.” Yet Snyder insists that Hitler’s rhetorical inconsistencies over the years represented tactical moves to build popular support – suggesting that Hitler was, in his own way, a rational, skilled politician.

Whatever Hitler’s motivations, Snyder agrees that evolving circumstances and facts on the ground helped determine the shape of the Holocaust. The lynchpin of “Black Earth” is its elucidation of how the abolition of states and citizenship made mass murder possible.

“For anarchy in theory to become extermination in practice, the German state had to be refashioned and neighboring states had to be destroyed,” Snyder writes, acknowledging his debt to the German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt. (She wrote that “one could do as one pleased only with stateless people.”)

Where national governments survived, even in corrupted form, as in France and Italy and even Germany itself, more Jews survived as well, Snyder says. He gives short shrift to the relative virulence of anti-Semitism and other cultural factors, as well as to geography and the extent of German hegemony.

But he does show convincingly (if unsurprisingly) just how deadly the “bloodlands” of Eastern Europe became for Jews. “It was in the zone of double occupation, where Soviet rule preceded German, where the Soviet destruction of interwar states was followed by the German annihilation of Soviet institutions, that a Final Solution took shape,” he writes.

In Poland and the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), the double occupation incentivized the populace to demonize Jews as Communist collaborators, adopting what Snyder calls “the Judeobolshevik myth.” Helping to murder Jews cleansed killers of their own collaborationist past, buying survival and often material gains as well, Snyder argues. After the Nazis invaded, longtime Soviet-controlled areas — Belarus, Ukraine and Russia — also became killing grounds, with Jews “sacrificed for the holy lie of the collective innocence of others.”

Snyder can be quite eloquent, insisting, for example, that the “accelerating campaign of murder that took a million Jewish lives” in the second half of 1941 “cannot be explained by stereotypes of passive or communist Jews, of orderly or preprogrammed Germans, or beastly or antisemitic locals, or indeed by any other cliché….” Or that “[t]he gates of Auschwitz can seem to contain an evil that, in fact extended from Paris to Smolensk.” But it seems like overreaching when he claims that while “Auschwitz has been remembered, most of the Holocaust has been largely forgotten.”

After several grim chapters, Snyder abruptly switches to tales of rescue. Some rescuers (Raoul Wallenberg was the pre-eminent model) used their diplomatic status to save Jews. Others were motivated by politics or religion or the hope of a future involving new love or family. Some rescuers, reluctant to take credit for their heroism, seemed to exemplify what Snyder calls the “banality of good” — another nod to Arendt.

In the end, Snyder takes on our own tempestuous debates about climate change and threats of economic scarcity. “Under enough stress, or with enough skill, politicians can effect the conflations Hitler pioneered: between nature and politics, between ecosystem and household, between need and desire,” he writes. “A global problem that seems otherwise insoluble can be blamed upon a specific group of human beings.” This seems far-fetched until one considers precursors such as the Rwandan Genocide, which Snyder blames in large part on land shortages. “No green politics,” he writes gloomily, “will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth.”

Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor to Columbia Journalism Review. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaMKlein .

Written by

Julia M. Klein

Plaque Honoring Anti-Nazis Missing from Hitler’s WWII Bunker

Polish police investigate theft of sign at Wolf’s Lair commemorating opponents of German dictator

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s police say they are investigating the theft of a metal plaque honoring Hitler’s opponents which was taken from the site of Nazi leader’s World War II bunker, now on Polish territory.

Police spokeswoman Anna Fic said Friday that an investigation is underway.

The plaque was unveiled at the dictator’s “Wolfsschanze” (Wolf’s Lair) in the village of Gierloz in 2004 to mark 60 years since a failed bomb plot against Hitler by members of the Germany military, namely Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.

The unknown thief or thieves unscrewed the 60 by 60 centimetre (24 by 24 inch) plaque and likely walked out with it during the night over the weekend, according to Monika Danielak, police spokeswoman in the neighboring town of Ketrzyn.

“Witnesses said there were German tourists at the site in Gierloz at the time and could help clarify what happened,” she told AFP.

“We plan to seek assistance from German police.”

A tourist guide noticed Sunday that the plaque had been unscrewed from its stone support.

The Wolf’s Lair was Hitler’s chief quarters from 1941-44, when the area was in Germany. After the war it became part of Poland and is now a major tourist attraction.

It was the largest of 10 command bases used by Hitler across Germany and occupied Europe after World War II began with the Nazi and Soviet carve-up of Poland in September 1939.

Every year, some 200,000 tourists visit the 250-hectare (618-acre) site featuring ruined concrete bunkers that could house up to 2,000 people and now lay overgrown in a forest.

It is at the Wolfsschanze that the aristocratic von Stauffenberg tried to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb in July 1944.

The bomb killed three officers and the stenographer but the Fuhrer escaped with only light injuries. Von Stauffenberg and three others were executed that same evening.

Searching for a Photo of Childhood Friend Lost in the Shoah

That intriguing headline, a plea from Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher, appeared in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on August 3. Auerbacher, 80, was looking for a picture of her childhood friend, Ruth Nelly Abraham, who was murdered at Auschwitz.

Auerbacher hoped a picture would breathe new life into her memory of Abraham. The two girls became friends in Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin, a concentration camp 35 miles northwest of Prague, where they lived together from 1942 until October 9, 1944, when Abraham was taken to Auschwitz.

Auerbacher remained in Terezin, where thousands of Jews died from malnutrition and disease, while others, like Abraham, were shipped to the Auschwitz and Treblinka death camps.

“It seems almost certain that little Ruth Nelly Abraham was murdered there [Auschwitz] in the gas chambers less that two weeks before her 10th birthday,” said William C. Connelly, technical information specialist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Auerbacher and her parents survived the Holocaust. They came to the United States in 1946, when Auerbacher was 11 years old. She had contracted tuberculosis in Terezin. Gravely ill, she was unable to attend school until she was 15. She eventually became a chemist.

She now travels the world lecturing on the Holocaust, and has written five books on the subject. In a recent interview with the Forward in her modest home in Queens, she spoke passionately about her childhood experience in Terezin.

She recalled how she and Abraham, as 8-year-olds, played with their identical dolls. Auerbacher said that her doll was named Marlene, after Marlene Dietrich, the movie star she idolized.

The girls’ meager joy in play was often dampened by the daily search for food. Starvation and disease were widespread.

“We rummaged around the garbage dump, and sometimes we came up with potato peels,” Auerbacher recalled.

The Auerbacher and Abraham families shared one bunk bed and lived in a room with 40 others. Many in the room were disabled World War I veterans, some chronically ill and neglected.

Abraham had blond hair, Auerbacher recalled. Abraham’s greatest joy was drawing pictures on scrapbook paper with colored pencils that she’d smuggled into the camp. She gave Auerbacher a hand-sewn dress for her doll, telling her to take good care of it until the girls would meet again. That was Auerbacher’s last memory of her friend.

For years, Auerbacher searched for a photograph of Abraham by which to remember her. She even visited Abraham’s former home in Berlin and inquired, to no avail, whether any of the residents remembered the Abraham family. Running out of leads, Auerbacher wrote to Der Tagesspiegel.

Her query touched Birgit Sosson, a German social worker from Zweibrucken, a small city near the French border, who saw it posted on Facebook. Sosson, whose hobby is genealogy, felt Auerbacher deserved to see a photograph of her friend.

Chasing Memory: Survivor Inge Auerbacher spent decades tracking down a relic of her past.
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” she said. Sosson identified with Auerbacher’s loss because her best friend died of lung cancer when she was 12. “I knew what Inge was going through,” she said.

Sosson began by looking at the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks, embedded in the street in front of the former Abraham family residence in Berlin. Stolpersteine are brass plaques that have been placed in the sidewalks in Berlin in front of the last residences of many Holocaust victims, in order to promote awareness of the Jews’ vanished presence in Germany’s capital. These individualized memorials contain the names and dates of deportation of the Jewish person in question.

With this information, Sosson tracked down Ron Brinitzer, a second cousin of Abraham. Brinitzer, 46, an economist who lives in Krefeld, northwest of Dusseldorf, was creating a family tree of his own. Although he had not researched the Abraham side of his family, he did know that a 90-year-old aunt, Alisa Eiger in Munich, had a damaged photo of Abraham, taken when she was 3 years old. In the picture, Abraham is in a light smock; she looks shyly at the camera, a toy animal clasped in her hands.

When Auerbacher finally received the photo through Eiger, she was comforted. “At least I will have a picture of dear little Ruth before I die,” she said. But the image also reminded her of the suffering they endured together.

Most of all, it brought Abraham to life again.

“For me it’s a miracle,” she said. “Out of the ashes a child was reborn, and now we have a picture. She did live.”

Contact Don Snyder at feedback@forward.com

Written by

Don Snyder

91-Year-Old Woman May Face Charges on Auschwitz Actions

Germany AuschwitzFormer death camp worker accused of complicity in the deaths of 260,000 Jews

BERLIN, Germany — A 91-year-old woman who worked at Auschwitz has been accused of complicity in the murders of at least 260,000 Jews during World War II, the German news agency DPA said Monday.

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The woman, who worked as a telegraph operator in Auschwitz, would be tried in a court for minors because she was under 21 at the time of alleged crimes, the agency said.

A court in the northern German city of Kiel is to decide whether to proceed with a trial next year, taking both the charges against her and her health into consideration, DPA said, quoting the city’s chief prosecutor, Heinz Dollel.

Dollel did not name the woman but said she belonged to an all-female unit that helped the Nazi SS in concentration camps, and that she was accused in connection with events between April to July 1944.

Those three months correspond to a time when huge numbers of Hungarian Jews were murdered in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

In July, a 94-year-old former SS officer, Oskar Groening, was sentenced to four years in jail as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases in which Hungarian Jews were sent to the gas chambers between May and July 1944.

Known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, his case was expected to be one of the last Holocaust trials.

Groening served as an accountant at Auschwitz, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labour, and shipping it back to his Nazi superiors in Berlin.

Some 1.1 million people, most of them European Jews, perished between 1940 and 1945 in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp before it was liberated by Soviet forces.