Estonian politician vows to legalize Holocaust denial

An Estonian nationalist politician vowed in his election campaign to decriminalize denial of the Holocaust and outlaw instead revisionism on the Soviet domination of this country.

Georg Kirsberg, who is running for a lawmaker’s seat for the Conservative People’s Party in Estonia’s elections in October, was quoted as saying this on Wednesday by the Estonian National Broadcasting Company.

“We will decriminalize Holocaust denial and enter a correct teaching of the history of the Third Reich,” Kirsberg said.

His far-right party supports revoking he citizenship and deporting what it defines as “Russians hostile to Estonia” – a reference to Ethnic Russians or mother-tongue speakers of that language living in Estonia, including most of the country’s Jews. Last month, the party, which was founded in 2012 and currently has seven out of 101 seats in the Estonian parliament, submitted a bill proposing such deportations. It is likely to be defeated.

The party also supports a ban on the construction of new mosques and Orthodox churches.

Doing away with Estonia’s laws against denying the Holocaust is however not an official party position, Martin Helme, the party’s leader, told the broadcasting authority.

“He does not claim that it is the party’s position, it is only the thought of one person “, Helme said. Asked whether the party plans to sanction Kirsberg over his comment, Helme said he “‘sees no reason to do this.”

Expressions of anti-Russian sentiment have increased dramatically in prevalence the Baltic countries – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, where Russia’s expansionist policies under President Vladimir Putin is reawakening bitterness over Moscow’s domination of that part of the world before the fall of communism. This development coincided with a wave of nationalism.

Estonia has a Jewish population of 2,500, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Hollywood’s Other Great Anti-Nazi Movie

Amid all the (quite justified) hoopla over the 75th anniversary of the release of Casablanca—propelled by Noah Isenberg’s marvelous appreciation We’ll Always Have Casablanca and the distinctly unmarvelous relevance of its beset-refugee theme—another septuagenarian classic from 1942 is in danger of being drowned out by the rousing choruses of “La Marseillaise” ringing out from Rick’s Café Américain. Like Casablanca, the film features an ensemble of indelible character actors, a phalanx of arrogant Nazis with no sense of humor, and a romantic triangle whose lovers realize that the problems of three little people in this crazy world must be sacrificed in service to a greater cause. And though more brightly lit and broadly played, To Be or Not to Be—Ernst Lubitsch’s racy, risky black comedy of manners—is every bit the expression of wartime values and classical Hollywood style as its more famous birth cousin. Skeptics can decide for themselves when To Be or Not To Be is screened as part of a two-week repertory festival commemorating the 125th anniversary of Lubitsch’s birth, beginning tonight at New York’s Film Forum.

Set in Nazi-occupied Poland—not the obvious locale for a laugh-riot night out at the movies in wartime America—To Be or Not to Be opens with a bracing sight gag: Adolf Hitler, alone, is walking the streets of Warsaw in August 1939—or rather his dead ringer is, the actor Bronski (Tom Dugan) who impersonates der Führer in an anti-Nazi play being mounted by a plucky Polish theatrical troupe. “Heil myself,” he ad-libs, a bit player stealing the spotlight from the egomaniacal star. That would be the “great, great Polish actor Josef Tura” (as Josef Tura puts it), an insecure grade-A ham played by radio superstar Jack Benny, who jumped at the chance to work with Lubitsch. Tura’s wife and co-star Maria (Carole Lombard) gets second billing but is first in the hearts of her countrymen, especially the heart of a dashing young flyer, Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack), who sighs over her from the second row. Since an actress has a duty to her adoring public, or at least its really handsome representatives, Maria agrees to meet the lieutenant in her dressing room when her husband is soliloquizing on stage. The signal for the assignation is the line “to be or not to be”—Tura is playing the Prince of Denmark. When Tura asks the question, the flyer leaves his seat to get cozy with Maria backstage. Lubitsch being Lubitsch, what transpires between the pair is left to the imagination: harmless flirtation or sexual tryst?

The Nazi invasion of Poland interrupts the backstage shenanigans. As the curtain of history slams down, the mood shifts from effervescent to somber. In the winter of its discontent, snow-smothered, war-ravaged Poland suffers under the jackboot of Nazi oppression. “And there was no censor to stop them,” mutters Greenberg (Felix Bressart), another bit player from the troupe, his line a self-reflexive comment on how the morality enforced on the American screen is not operative in the European theater.

In London, meanwhile, Lt. Sobinski, now a flyer for the Royal Air Force, discovers that a seeming Polish patriot is actually a Nazi double agent; the traitor must be stopped before he exposes the entire Polish underground. Parachuting into Warsaw, he is sheltered by Maria and suspected by Josef, but the possibly cuckolded actor forgoes husbandly revenge when he learns about the threat to the Polish resistance. The film is dead serious about the instinctive patriotism of the Poles and the casual brutality of the Germans.

Marie toys with her Nazi admirers, Josef impersonates a Nazi commandant (“So, they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt?”), and the entire troupe mounts an elaborate charade to foil the Nazis. Mission accomplished, the actors escape by plane to Great Britain. Once safely in the air, the Hitler impersonator dispatches the real Nazis by ordering them out the side door of the fuselage. “Jump!” he barks. “Heil Hitler!” they salute, before obediently leaping to their deaths.

Title notwithstanding, the best-remembered soliloquy in the film is not from Hamlet but The Merchant of Venice. In a plot machination too convoluted to recap, the perennially second-billed Felix Bressart, a Jewish character actor and Lubitsch stock-company regular, is given his moment in the spotlight, reciting the anguished monologue from the role he was born to play, Shylock. “Have we not eyes? Have we not hands, organs, senses, dimensions, attachments, passions?” he asks the Nazis, who are mesmerized despite themselves. (The post-Holocaust spectator will be especially spooked by the accusation: “If you poison us, do we not die?”) Spoken against a backdrop of Nazi uniforms, helmets, and swastikas, Bressert’s performance is transfixing. He seems to know already that wartime Hollywood cinema will never produce a more eloquent plea for religious tolerance than the one written in the 1590s.

Curiously, though, Bressart does not speak the trigger word that in Shakespeare launches the litany of rhetorical questions: “Hath not a Jew eyes?” Still radioactive, the word “Jew” was seldom heard on the Hollywood screen, even in war-minded scenarios where the topic of anti-Semitism was front and center. In The Mortal Storm (1940), for example, the Jewish professor murdered by the Nazis is never named as such—only called a “non-Aryan” with the letter “J” printed on his concentration-camp uniform.

Alas, no paper trail seems to have survived to explain the significant omission from Shylock’s speech. The Production Code overseers, who were often leery of Jewish content, raised no objections. “The studio bosses were always—even at this point—afraid of thrusting Jews into the spotlight,” speculates film historian Lester D. Friedman, author of Hollywood’s Image of the Jew, trying to make sense of the decision. William Paul, professor of film and media studies at Washington University and author of Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy, points out that To Be or Not To Be went into production in the wake of the U.S. Senate’s investigation of “Propaganda in Motion Pictures” (Sept. 9-26, 1941). In the highly publicized hearings, a group of Hollywood moguls were hauled before a dais of nativist senators and accused of using anti-Nazi films to sucker Christian America into the European maelstrom. Antony Polansky, professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University, offers a nation-specific explanation. Since many Poles did not consider Polish Jews to be true Poles, the substitution of the pronoun “we” for “Jews” actually expanded the net of inclusion: Greenberg, the Polish Jew, was speaking as a Pole, not a Jew.

If Casablanca is hailed as the definitive example of the collaborative magic of “the genius of the system,” To Be or Not to Be is imprinted with the genius of one man, the great, great director Ernst Lubitsch. In the days before the auteur theory, Lubitsch was one of a handful of Hollywood directors whose name above the title meant something to average moviegoers. His trademark “Lubitsch touch” promised an effervescent European sophistication laced with risqué banter and sexual sparks—but that never crossed over into the smarmy, that skated right up to the edge of the Production Code without breaking through the ice. Even Joseph Breen, the straight-laced enforcer of the code, gave Lubitsch a longer leash than most Hollywood directors because, like everyone in Hollywood, he knew the man was a genius.

Though a German Jew, Lubitsch was not a refugee from Nazism: He abandoned the Weimar Republic for Hollywood in 1922, lured over by Mary Pickford, who wanted him to direct her as Gretchen in Faust, a concept that fortunately never came to light. Lubitsch thrived in the emergent Hollywood studio system with elegant costume dramas like Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) and So This Is Paris (1926) before gliding effortlessly into the sound era with The Love Parade (1929) and The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), each starring another European import, Maurice Chevalier. In 1932, when Lubitsch returned to Germany for a visit, he was asked if he ever planned to return to his native land. Already attuned to the bad vibes in the air, he replied, “In California, the sun shines every day.” Not that he forgot his less fortunate brethren as the Nazis consolidated their gangster state. He was a leading voice in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and a founding member of the European Film Fund, which tithed its members 1 percent of their salaries to support a community of film-minded refugees from Nazism so numerous that Hollywood was dubbed “Berlin on the Pacific.”

By the end of the 1930s, Lubitsch was at the height of his creative powers and box-office popularity. As American entry into WWII loomed, he was coming off two of his most intoxicating concoctions: Ninotchka (1939), in which a straight-laced Soviet commissar (played by Greta Garbo, who famously laughed) is seduced by the champagne and chapeaux of decadent Paris, and The Shop Around the Corner (1940), in which Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan conduct an epistolary love affair while squabbling like cats and dogs face to face. He died too young, at 55, in 1947, his last film, The Lady in Ermine (1948), completed by Otto Preminger. At Lubitsch’s funeral, eulogizing his beloved friend and mentor, the director Billy Wilder explained the sensibility that defined the Lubitsch touch. Lubitsch, Wilder observed, never wanted to follow the bride and bridegroom into the honeymoon suite and spy on their first night together; he wanted to observe the couple at breakfast the next morning.

Presented by Alexander Korda, produced as well as directed by Lubitsch, and written by Edwin Justus Meyer from and original story by Lubitsch and Melchior Lengyel, To Be or Not To Be went into production on Nov. 6, 1941. By the time the film wrapped on Dec. 24, it confronted a radically different zeitgeist. In the interim between Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) and the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo (Apr. 18, 1942) the war news for America was all bad: The Nazis dominated huge swaths of Europe, the Wehrmacht was locked in a death grip with the Soviet Army, and the Japanese controlled much of the Pacific Theater. Hitler and the Nazis—so lately fit subjects for hilarity in The Three Stooges’ You Nazty Spy! (1940) and Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940)—were no longer laughing matters.

Closer to home, another piece of grim news cast a shadow over the film. On Jan. 15, 1942, in Indianapolis, Carole Lombard joined fellow Hoosier Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, for a huge war-bond rally. “Great day today,” Hays telegrammed Clark Gable, whom Lombard had married in 1939. “Carole was perfect.”

Hours later the actress was dead when the plane carrying her back to Hollywood crashed into the mountains 35 miles west of Las Vegas, killing all 22 souls on board, including 15 Army aviators.

Unhinged with grief, Gable rushed to the crash site to help search for her body. “Carole Lombard gave her life in the service of America,” Will Hays declared in a public statement. FDR sent Gable a telegram of condolence. “She gave unselfishly of her time and talent to serve her country in peace and in war. She loved her country.” A stricken Jack Benny withdrew from his broadcast that Sunday night. Summing up the reaction throughout the industry, Variety noted that “no tragedy has struck the theatrical field with such widespread sorrow since the death, also by airplane disaster, of Will Rogers, in August 1935.” Pearl Harbor had claimed 2,400 American lives, and more telegrams from the War Department were being delivered every day, but Lombard was the first casualty of World War II everyone felt they knew.

United Artists announced “a respectful period of time” would be allowed to elapse before the release of Lombard’s last picture. On Feb. 19, 1942, To Be or Not To Be premiered in New York and Los Angeles; on Mar. 6, it went into general release.

Reviews were positive but mindful of the clouds hanging over the comedy. Watching the gorgeous star—lithe, supple, and radiant in a form-fitting gown—it seemed impossible that she was dead. “Individual reaction to the film is tempered, one way or another in all cases, by the fact of Miss Lombard’s death,” wrote William R. Weaver in Motion Picture Herald. He also noted the bigger picture. “Mass audience reaction is subject to variation with the tenor of the day’s war news.” For Polish neighborhoods, Weaver suggested, “it is well to test out specifically the local attitude toward a comedy which utilizes blizted Warsaw as a background for humor.” The reaction of one moviegoer verged on the traumatic. At the film’s premiere in New York, Jack Benny’s father took one look at his son in a Gestapo uniform, became nauseated, and bolted for the lobby.

Contrary to myth, however, To Be or Not To Be was a not a box-office flop. It was the year’s top attraction for United Artists, grossing $1.5 million, though, as with all Lubitsch films, it played better in the big cities than in the hinterlands. To put things in perspective, however, each of the four films starring Abbot and Costello that year outgrossed To Be or Not To Be.

In the years since, due to repertory screenings, the rise of auteurism, frequent television screenings, and ready DVD availability, To Be or Not To Be has gained steadily in stature. As the war and the memory of Lombard’s death receded, audiences were able to experience the dark satire without the queasy dread that filled the air of the first half of 1942. In 1983, it was well-enough-known to be remade by Mel Brooks, whose own directorial hand felt more like a grope than a touch.

“What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology,” Lubitsch explained to critics who felt his breezy style and glib quips were in poor taste. The tone and temper of the film “cannot leave any doubt in the spectator’s mind what my point of view and attitude are toward these acts of horror.” To Be or Not To Be may never be as vivid in the cultural memory as Casablanca, its lines as fluently quoted, but its bedrock anti-Nazism and spirit of resistance is just as fierce. It is also a whole lot funnier—and a laugh, as Felix Bressart remarks, speaking for the director, is nothing to sneeze at.

SWEDEN LAUNCHES PROGRAM TO FIGHT HOLOCAUST DENIAL AND ANTISEMITISM

ith surveys showing “lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” Stockholm has stepped up efforts to teach about the Holocaust as a means of fighting against antisemitism, the director of a government-run program targeting the issue said.

“The Swedish government is investing a lot of money to combat the phenomenon of antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Ingrid Lomfors, director of the Living History Forum in Sweden added, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this past week.

The Forum is a public authority established by Sweden some 15 years ago with the aim of “promoting democracy, tolerance and human rights using the Holocaust as a starting point.”

In November the government announced an additional 156 million Krona (NIS 65 million) stipend to develop a new national program for Holocaust remembrance, with the aim of combating antisemitism and racism.

“Our task is to teach Holocaust education but also to learn from history – to learn about the Holocaust and to learn from the Holocaust – what lessons can be drawn in terms of how we look at democracy, the risk of populism and racism, how do we find early warnings,” Lomfors said.

Lomfors, an historian who has devoted 30 years to studying the Holocaust, was in Israel this month seeking information from such institutions as Yad Vashem to help to build the Swedish program.

“I am very happy it [the government] gave us this opportunity but at the same time you can also say that in a way it is sad that it is needed – it says something about the world in which we live in,” Lomfors said.

“Combating antisemitism is something that you have been doing here for quite some time now and learning from the Holocaust,” she said of Israel’s experience in these fields.

“I can see lots of possibilities for collaborations to adapt programs in Israel to Swedish society,” she said. “I also think it is important for Israeli institutions to learn from us because cooperation is the only way to combat this phenomenon.”

According to Lomfors, the impetus for setting up the Forum over a decade ago was in part a nationwide survey which revealed that Swedes had very limited knowledge of the Holocaust, and that a large number of youths showed signs of Holocaust denial.

“This was really shocking to all of us,” she said, though adding that “at that time, around 20 years ago, we didn’t speak about the Holocaust.”

Another factor behind Sweden’s endeavor was renewed interest and dialogue about the Holocaust due to headlines surrounding Nazi looted art.

Lomfors described the situation in Sweden today as “very complex.”

“On the one hand you can see a trend that tolerance is increasing – young people today are becoming more and more tolerant and the country, demographically speaking is becoming more pluralistic,” she said.

“At the same time, you have an increase in racist ideas – hate speech and hate crime – as well as increasing populism.”

“I think there is a rise in antisemitism, and a rise in hate crimes which is true for many minority groups,” Lomfors said.

But she said international surveys suggested antisemitism in Sweden was not as bad as in other European countries.

“Lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” she said.

According to Lomfors, Holocaust education in Swedish schools is “not enough.”

She thought teachers needed more of “an opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust.”

The Forum she runs seeks to help educators by running educational and cultural programs, creating digital materials, holding regional conferences, and developing exhibitions about the Holocaust, she said.

“We are a fusion between a museum and an education forum,” she said. “Teachers are our major target group in the hope that they will use our tools to reach the students but we also reach out to student groups around the country.”

Lomfors said further that the Forum trains thousands of teachers and reaches several hundred thousand students every year through workshops and traveling exhibitions – all with a focus on both the past and present day.

The Holocaust provided a “tool for discussion” for programs focused on modern day antisemitism and racism in Sweden.

Lomfors said it was too early to gage the impact that growing numbers of refugees settling in Sweden may have on a rise in antisemitic attitudes.

“It will definitely reshape Swedish society and my institution has to take this into account when we outline programs. We have to learn more about the attitudes of newcomers,” she said.

“Antisemitism is global and if you really want to combat it you have to work in a global way – racism doesn’t have any national borders,” Lomfors said.

Chance find reveals only known footage of Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg

n newly discovered footage of Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg — the only known instance that he was caught on film — the man who would go on to save tens of thousands of Jews can be seen instructing army recruits at a firing range in 1940.

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The archive movie was first broadcast a month ago during a cultural program on the Swedish public service television SVT, but it wasn’t until last week that a researcher realized that the instructor overseeing the gun practice was Wallenberg.

It is the only known footage of Wallenberg, who, as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary, was credited with helping at least 20,000 Jews escape the Holocaust. He is believed to have died in Soviet captivity, but when and how remains unclear.

In the 25-second clip, Wallenberg can be seen at a central Stockholm location in what researchers say was the summer or autumn of 1940. Wallenberg, who would have been 29 at the time, wears an army uniform as he instructs recruits firing rifles at targets in the basement of a building.

According to Swedish media, the film showed an exercise of the Swedish Home Guard, a reserve force set up in 1940.

Gellert Kovacs, a Wallenberg scholar, happened to see the initial broadcast and thought he recognized Wallenberg. He found the clip online and after carefully reviewing it concluded that it was indeed the famous diplomat.

“I am now 100 percent sure – it’s Raoul Wallenberg,” Kovacs told SVT. For confirmation, he contacted another researcher, Susanna Berger, and she agreed with his assessment.

Wallenberg’s sister, Nina Lagergren, 96, told SVT that “there is no doubt” that it is her brother, based on the way he moved and stood in the clip.

“It’s a very emotional experience. It’s magical,” said Lagergren, who has not seen her brother since 1945, when he disappeared after being captured by the Soviet Army.

Wallenberg, who was born in 1912, helped Jews escape Nazi-occupied Germany by giving them Swedish passports.

A young architect and businessman, Wallenberg volunteered to travel to Hungary in 1944 as a special envoy to aid a US effort to rescue Jews from extermination at the hands of Nazi Germany.

In January 1945, while the Soviets were engaged in a prolonged and bloody battle with the Germans over Budapest, the 32-year-old diplomat was called in for questioning at the Russian headquarters in Debrecen over allegations of espionage. He was never heard from again.

The Soviets initially denied he was in their custody, but in 1957 they said he had died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947. His fate was considered a mystery for decades. In 2016, 71 years after his disappearance, Swedish authorities officially declared him dead.

Many countries have memorials commemorating his works, including Israel, which designated him as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” the highest honor granted to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Facebook lenient on blocking Holocaust denial, leaked documents show

Facebook requires its content moderators to take down Holocaust denial material in only four countries, including Israel, even though it is illegal in 14, according to a company handbook provided to the network’s moderators.

The British daily newspaper The Guardian published information from leaked documents from Facebook on Wednesday, including from the moderators’ handbook.

According to the handbook, moderators should take down Holocaust denial material in France, Israel, Germany and Austria — countries that Facebook believes will take legal action. It also says that Facebook “does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world” and will only consider blocking or hiding Holocaust denial messages and photographs if “we face the risk of getting blocked in a country or a legal risk.”

“We believe our geo-blocking policy balances our belief in free expression with the practical need to respect local laws in certain sovereign nations in order to remain unblocked and avoid legal liability. We will only use geo-blocking when a country has taken sufficient steps to demonstrate that the local legislation permits censorship in that specific case,” the handbook says, according to The Guardian.

It also says: “Some 14 countries have legislation on their books prohibiting the expression of claims that the volume of death and severity of the Holocaust is overestimated. Less than half the countries with these laws actually pursue it. We block on report only in those countries that actively pursue the issue with us.”

Facebook denied that Holocaust denial blocking occurs in only four countries but would not discuss the issue further with The Guardian, according to the newspaper.

According to The Guardian, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers qualify as a “quasi-protected category, meaning they do not receive as many protections as other vulnerable groups.”

“As a quasi-protected category, they will not have the full protections of our hate speech policy because we want to allow people to have broad discussions on migrants and immigration which is a hot topic in upcoming elections,” the handbook says, according to The Guardian.

The leaked documents also deal with how moderators should handle suicide, pornography, racism and terrorism.

Books stolen from Polish Jewish communities during WWII donated to foundation

WARSAW, Poland – Some 33 rare books stolen during World War II from Jewish communities located in present-day Poland were donated to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

The ceremony took place last week at the National Library in Warsaw.

Representatives of the Central and Regional Library in Berlin and of the Judaicum Center in Berlin jointly donated the books to the foundation director, Monika Krawczyk.

Most of the books handed over come from the former collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Fränkel Foundation in Wroclaw. The oldest book, published in 1644, is signed by the German-Jewish theologian David Rosin, who lived from 1823 to 1894.

There are also two books from the collection of the Great Synagogue in Warsaw: Ludwik Wachler’s “Literature Handbook of 1833” and a pastoral letter from 1785. One of the books comes from the synagogue in Legnica and contains fictional literature.

The books have been identified as part of a provisional study conducted by a team of specialists at the Berlin library and center.

A public database of these institutions contains more than 35,000 volumes. Among them there are thousands of books containing traceable names or surnames, and identifiable volumes owned by specific individuals or organizations.

Holocaust survivor gets high school diploma in Minnesota

LYMOUTH, Minn. — A Minnesota woman who survived the Holocaust received her high school diploma more than seven decades after the Nazis robbed her of the privilege.

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PLYMOUTH – Esther Begam was 11 years old in 1942 when Germany invaded her native Poland and she was forced to work, first in a Jewish ghetto, then in a forced labor camp. Wayzata High School in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth presented Begam with a diploma this month, KARE-TV reported. The 88-year-old grabbed her blue graduation cap and tossed it skyward as she was treated to a standing ovation.

“It feels good,” she said, surrounded by her great-grandchildren.

Begam’s father, a rabbi, was never seen after he left to serve as a chaplain with the Polish army. Her mother and younger brother were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Her older sister, who was also forced into labor, didn’t survive the ordeal.

“I had very educated families,” Begam said. “My father knew seven, eight languages.”

When World War II ended, she found herself alone. At age 17, she married another Holocaust survivor and moved to Minnesota.

Begam told her story at Wayzata High School seven years ago, and a student asked her to name her biggest regret.

Holocaust survivor Esther Begam in her high school graduation gown (screen capture: Kare 11)
Holocaust survivor Esther Begam in her high school graduation gown (screen capture: Kare 11)

“I expected her to say I wish we would have run, I wish we would have hidden, I wish we would have saved pictures — and she said, ‘The one thing I regret is not getting my high school diploma,’” said Candice Ledman, a teacher.

Ledman came up with the idea to give Begam a diploma, but the school administration originally turned her down.

“It definitely sat with me,” Ledman said. “It’s one of those things, you want to do something for her.”

The opportunity presented itself again when a new principal, Scott Gengler, took over.

“I wasn’t four sentences into explaining Esther’s full story and he said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it. We need to do this,’” Ledman said.

Ledman’s class decorated a small auditorium, and a cake was prepared for after the ceremony. Most of Begam’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were present.

Museum to be built at Nazi death camp in Poland

WARSAW, Poland — Construction work will begin in the next few months on a new museum at the former Nazi German death camp in Sobibor, eastern Poland, one of the project’s managers told AFP Saturday.

“We hope the main works will be completed before the end of the year,” said Agnieszka Kowalczyk-Nowak of the project, which is being funded by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Netherlands.

The Sobibor death camp during World War II was the site of crimes of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk who was convicted in 2011 in Germany as an accessory to the murder of almost 30,000 Jews while acting as a guard at the camp.

Demanjuk died the following year, without a criminal record under German law as his appeals process was never finished.

After an uprising at the Sobibor camp in October 1943, the Nazis razed it and built a farm there in an attempt to conceal any trace of their crimes, which included the deaths of around 250,000 Jews over the previous two years.

During the prisoners’ revolt around 300 inmates managed to flee but most were later rounded up in the nearby forests and executed by Hitler’s feared SS secret police.

The new museum is expected to be opened to the public in 2019, according to Kowalczyk-Nowak.

Preparatory work on the site began in March, especially around the area of the mass graves where archaeological excavations had already been carried out.

A first, smaller museum at the former Nazi German death camp was shut down in 2011 due to underfunding.

The Nazis set up a string of death camps in occupied Poland where they brought Jews deported from throughout Europe.

The most notorious of these was the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which has become emblematic of the Nazi Holocaust. It was there that 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed from 1940 to the start of 1945.