Category Archive: In Memoriam

Rivlin, Netanyahu join thousands in Holocaust remembrance campaign

‘We Remember’ project projects images from around world, including Pakistan and Bolivia, on screen at Auschwitz

berlandThousands of people from around the world shared photos remembering the Holocaust in Facebook campaign ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.

The “We Remember” campaign, organized by the World Jewish Congress, has reached 100 million people across the globe, with more than 200,000 participants.

As part of the project, people of all faiths and nationalities have shared images of themselves holding up the words “We Remember.” Starting Tuesday, in partnership with the Auschwitz Museum, thousands of these images were projected on a screen on the grounds of Birkenau, next to Crematorium II. The screening will continue until Thursday and is also being streamed via social media.

Participants included President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and political party leaders Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog.

In the rest of the world, the project drew contributions from US politicians Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Congressmen Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler; a wide range of European MPs and officials such as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon, and Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. Israeli actresses Moran Atias and Odelya Halevy and Jewish public figures such as Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Bernard Henri-Levy also joined the drive.

“Anti-Semitism is more prevalent today than it has been at any time since World War II, and bigotry and discrimination still rear their ugly heads all around the world,” WJC CEO Robert Singer said. “This is why we all must declare, together, that we remember.”

Singer said that this project showed a new way of commemorating the Holocaust.

“This project has taught us that history can be taught in a new way, and shown is the power of social media. We have learned that it is indeed possible to bring people of all ages and from all over the world together remember the past using a shared language,” he said.

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The Memory of the Holocaust is No Excuse for Inaction

If there is anything that can infuse some meaning into the murder of our loved ones, it is that we will create such unity that will prevent such a fate from reoccurring.

ShowImageToday, on January 27, 2017, the world is commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, the world is once again increasingly antisemitic. Today, we can stop a Second Holocaust from happening, because it will, unless we take assertive action.

Shortly before the expulsion from Spain, the Jews eagerly assimilated among their Spanish hosts, wrote the acclaimed historian Jane S. Gerber in The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. Spanish Jewry considered Spain the new Jerusalem, and thought that “the presence of so many Jews and Christians of Jewish ancestry in the inner circles of the court, municipalities, and even the Catholic church could provide protection and avert the decree” of expulsion. They were wrong.

Like their brethren in Spain, German Jews believed that if they assimilated among the Germans, they would be safe from the eternal finger pointing that is the lot of the Jew. Professors Steven J. Zipperstein of Stanford University and Jonathan Frankel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, write in Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, that a few years after the start of the Jewish emancipation, David Friedlander, one of the Jewish community’s most prominent leaders, suggested that Berlin Jews would convert to Christianity en masse. We are remembering today how this assimilation ended.

For many centuries, whenever Jews tried to abandon the tribe, their host nation would punish them heavily. For centuries, Jew-lovers and Jew-haters alike were baffled by the survival of the Jews despite their constant persecution and extermination. Author Mark Twain pondered Jewish survival in his essay, “Concerning the Jews”: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Strangely enough, even Adolf Hitler wondered how it is that the Jews have survived thus far. In Mein Kampf he wrote, “When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there arose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not, with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.”

The nations cannot solve the riddle of our survival; only we can do this.

Why Are We Afflicted and Why We Have Survived

We Jews are unlike any other nation. We may want to be, but the fact that the entire world criticizes us every day, that the UN Security Council debates almost exclusively about Israel, and that Jews are the main target of hate crimes not only in Europe, but even in the US, proves that we are by far the most hated nation on the planet.

Donald Trump’s inauguration as President may give us a hiatus from overt Jew-hatred, but if we do not respond correctly to the opportunity, the backlash will explode in our faces, quite literally. Even if President Trump vetoes all the anti-Israel UN resolutions, this will not abate the hatred that the nations feel toward us. Sooner or later, he, too, will have to reconsider his position. So, to avoid another Holocaust, we must understand our unique position in the world and act accordingly.

“The Jews Are Responsible for All the Wars in the World”

Mel Gibson’s infamous 2006 rant, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” like General William Boykin’s statement, “The Jews are the problem; the Jews are the cause of all the problems in the world,” reflect a gut feeling that to some extent, the entire world shares. Worse yet, the more unsolvable the world’s conflicts become, the more the world blames the Jews for them. Consciously or not, humanity remembers that immediately after we committed to unite “as one man with one heart,” we thereby became a nation that was tasked with being “a light unto nations.” Even if people cannot verbalize it, they feel that the light we are to bring to the world is the light of unity and peace, that unique union we had achieved at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Therefore, as long as there are hatred and war in the world, there will be antisemitism.

But to bring peace, we must understand its meaning. When our sages spoke of peace, they did not refer to absence of war. To avoid war, we can simply avoid contact. The word shalom (peace) comes from the Hebrew word shlemut (wholeness). To make peace means to make whole. It is to take two conflicting opposites and unite them in such a way that they make a new whole. It is an entity that is neither, yet is the offspring of both, a creation that could not have been made without both and which they both love dearly. Just as a man and woman together create a child who is neither the mother nor the father, but who is the beloved creation of both, peace is the resulting wholeness that two opposite, conflicting views create.

The book Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules) writes, “The essence of vitality, existence, and correction in creation is achieved by people of differing opinions mingling together in love, unity, and peace.” Abraham taught this special unity to his disciples and descendants, and Moses taught this to the entire nation until they united in their hearts and thus became a nation with a mission to complete Moses’ work and convey this wisdom to the rest of the world. Ramchal wrote in his book, The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah: “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time, but he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.” We are still suffering from the corruption—it is the baseless hatred that is tearing us apart and presenting us as “a darkness unto nations” rather than their light

To understand in what way we should unite in order to become that light, think of our bodies. The diversity of organ functionality in our body ensures our health. The liver, heart, and kidneys work very differently, and all require blood. If we did not know that these organs complement each other to maintain our health, we might think that they are vying for the same resource. Yet, without each of them we would die.

Just like our bodies, “humanity” is not a generic name for “many people”; it is an entity of which we are all parts. When we view ourselves as separate beings, we have to fight for survival. But if we rose above our petty selves just for a moment, we would discover a very different reality—where we are connected and mutually supportive.

In his essay, “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam writes that “when humankind achieves its goal of complete love of others, all the bodies in the world will unite into a single body and a single heart. However, against that, we must be watchful not to bring the views of people so close that disagreement and criticism might be terminated, for love naturally brings with it proximity of views. And should criticism and disagreement vanish, all progress in concepts and ideas will cease, and the source of knowledge in the world will dry out.”

“This,” continues Baal HaSulam, “is the proof of the obligation to caution with the freedom of the individual regarding concepts and ideas, for the whole development of the wisdom and knowledge is based on that freedom of the individual. Thus, we are cautioned to preserve it very carefully.” Peace, therefore, is possible only when we are different, yet mutually supportive, when we unite above our differences. If we do not convey this principle to the nations, they will not find it on their own and they will blame us for their wars.

Philosopher and historian, Nicholai Berdysev, wrote in The Meaning of History: “The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.” But what Berdysev cannot know is the specific nature of our fate, the meaning of being “a light unto nations.” If we want to avoid another round of genocide, we must begin to do what we were meant to do.

I lost almost my entire family in the Holocaust. But I understand that merely remembering them does not excuse us from action. Remembrance will not bring them back or prevent a repetition of the horror. Only our unity above our differences, precisely as described above, will establish peace among us and make us a role model for the rest of the world, “a light unto nations.” If there is anything that can infuse some meaning into the murder of our loved ones, it is that we will create such unity that will prevent such a fate from reoccurring.

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Rome road race to commemorate the Holocaust

ROME (JTA) – A road race passing sites of Holocaust and Jewish remembrance in Rome will highlight events in Italy marking International Holocaust Memorial Day.

The “Run for Mem” — short for Run for Remembrance: Looking Ahead — is scheduled for Jan. 22, five days before the observance of International Holocaust Memorial Day marking the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz. In some countries, including Italy, events take place in the days or even weeks surrounding the Jan. 27 date.

Sponsored by Italy’s main Jewish organizations, The Run for Mem will start and end in Rome’s historic Jewish ghetto, in a square now named for the deportation of Roman Jews to Auschwitz on Oct. 16, 1943. Billed as Europe’s first sport race past sites meant “to commemorate the Shoah and determine future direction,” the event has two routes – 10 kilometers for athletes, 3.5K for the general public. Both take participants past sites related to the Holocaust.

Participants will be encouraged to stop, read commemorative plaques and light candles. They will also meet with Shaul Ladany, an Israeli Holocaust survivor and champion race walker who survived the attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Organized by the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, under the auspices of the government and in collaboration with the Rome Marathon and the Maccabi Italia Association, the event is supported by or partnered with more than two dozen other Jewish, civic, governmental and sports bodies and will be featured on national television.

“Sport as a means of coming together is a way to affirm life and dialogue,” UCEI President Noemi Di Segni told a news conference Monday.

Other initiatives around the country to mark Holocaust Memorial Day include exhibitions, cultural and educational events, and commemorative ceremonies.

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German nationalist calls for end to Nazi guilt

Leading member of Alternative for Germany party says Berlin Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’

2016-02-25_Plenum_im_Thüringer_Landtag_by_Olaf_Kosinsky-13-e1484703021503Aprominent member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party wants to end the country’s decades-long tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

Bjoern Hoecke leads the party in the eastern state of Thuringia. He said Germany needs to perform a “180-degree turn” when it comes to remembering its past.

Hoecke said Tuesday that the Berlin memorial to the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust is a “monument of shame.” He told party supporters in the eastern city of Dresden that no other country would erect such a memorial in its capital and called instead for Germany to take a “positive” attitude toward its history.

Nazi Germany was responsible for the murder of more than 6 million Jews and other minorities before and during World War II.

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‘British Schindler’ Honored by Royal Mail Commemorative Stamp

Sir Nicholas Winton rescued 669 Jewish children from Europe in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Holocaust.

ShowImage (2)The British Royal Mail postal service has issued a stamp honoring Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 Jewish children from Europe in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Winton arranged for eight trains carrying the children to travel from Prague to the UK, utilizing Britain’s Kindertransport program allowing for refugees under 17 from the continent to gain asylum if they had a hosting family.

Winton bribed Nazi officials, arranged for forged travel documents and found families to take the children in and pay a £50 deposit for their eventual return travel fees.

The families of most of the children rescued were murdered during the Holocaust Winton, who died last year aged 106, is one of six humanitarians honored in the Royal Mail’s presentation pack issued on Tuesday, including Sue Ryder, John Boyd Orr, Eglantyne Jebb, Joseph Rowntree, and Josephine Butler.

“Sir Nicholas Winton was a true hero of our time and it is fantastic that Royal Mail is recognizing this remarkable man in such a special way,” said Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust in the UK.

“The Holocaust Educational Trust is thrilled that this commemorative stamp is now available for everyone to purchase and spread the story of Sir Nicholas’s extraordinary selflessness far and wide.”

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Portrait of Papa as a Young Man

In my grandfather’s village, I found the man he’d been before memories of the Holocaust destroyed him

goldstein_121112_620pxOn Aug. 9, 1982, the day before my fifth birthday, my grandfather killed himself. After taking a fatal dose of sleeping pills, he went into the living room and lay down on the couch, where my grandmother found him the following morning.

I have few memories of my grandfather, whom we called Papa. Occasionally, there was a hushed comment or two about “the war,” but when I was young, I had little sense of what that meant. According to my mother, Papa had terrible nightmares, his screams occasionally waking her and my uncle when they were young. Like most Holocaust survivors, my grandparents rarely discussed the war with their kids, and so my mother assumed that the night terrors were perfectly normal, that all fathers occasionally woke their children with their shrieking. It was all she knew.

After the war Papa owned a supermarket in the Bronx, which he sold around the time I was born. Without the store to occupy his time, he was perpetually restless. There was an unmistakable sadness to him, his cheeks lean and hollowed, his icy blue eyes a shade too big for his face. Whenever he visited, he’d take me onto his lap, kiss the top of my head, and tell me that I was his lawyer. It was a joke I didn’t understand then, and it makes little sense to me now. He was gentle and sweet, and I was his lawyer. Then he disappeared. I’ve been searching for him for 30 years now.

***

Over time, I’ve gathered additional bits and pieces of his life story, most of which came from my mother and centered on Papa’s experiences during the Holocaust. He married my grandmother, whom I called Baba, a few months after the Soviets and Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. His brothers were killed in 1941 after the Nazis broke their pact with the Soviets and occupied all of Poland. In 1942, he and Baba were herded into a ghetto in Ternopil and spent time in work camps. The following year, fearing that the ghetto would be liquidated, they fled back to Janow, the small Polish village where they’d grown up. From then until the Russian army liberated the village, they hid in a bunker in the cellar of a house owned by the Kryvorukas, gentile neighbors who risked their lives to save village Jews.

According to one story my mother heard from my grandfather, a Ukrainian policia once held a gun to the head of the youngest Kryvoruka child, Yulka, and demanded to know where the Jews were. Yulka remained silent even after the policia fired a warning shot behind his head and so saved the Jews hiding in the cellar. On another occasion, whoever was supposed to be keeping watch in the attic had taken the night off. My grandfather ran to the lookout in time to see a group of soldiers trudging through a heavy snowdrift. The reason that he had time to gather everyone and scramble to the cellar to hide was that one of the soldiers dropped his pistol, and the others got on their hands and knees and groped and yelled at each other until they found it. Meanwhile, Baba, Papa, and about a dozen other Jews hustled into the bunker to safety. It is The Pianist meets The Three Stooges, and it is only because of absurdities like this that I exist.

In 2003, more than 20 years after Papa committed suicide, Baba died of complications from Alzheimer’s. While sitting shiva, my family gathered to share stories of Baba and Papa, and we realized once again how little we knew. It was then that one of my brothers or cousins first proposed a trip to Janow. Somehow, though, there never seemed to be a good time, and we procrastinated for years.

Finally, in late 2010, we got around to planning our trip. Through Yad Vashem, we were able to find the contact information for the offspring of Yulka Kryvoruka, the brave neighbor who’d saved our grandparents 70 years before. Yulka had died in 1991, and his children wished to have him recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor for gentiles who’d saved Jews during the war. After a few weeks of exchanging letters, Yulka’s children agreed to meet us in Janow. I wasn’t sure what I hoped to learn, but some part of me thought that if I could see the setting of Papa’s nightmares, I could feel closer to him. I thought I might finally find him there.

When we arrived at Janow, we pulled over on a road by the village’s entrance in front of the welcome sign. After taking a picture or two, my brother Jon and my wife Zoe and I ran up to the top of a hill so we could take in a better view of the village. I’d been expecting the village to feel dark and haunted. When I’d dreamed of it, the images were always in black and white, the landscape ghostly and stark, the buildings crude, burnt-out husks.

But Janow, it turned out, was beautiful. And it wasn’t just beautiful, but exquisitely, heartbreakingly, every neuron-in-your-brain-taking-a-giddy-gulp-of-pastoral-ambrosia beautiful. The rolling green hills were covered in purple and yellow wildflowers. There were thick, healthy bees, swollen as grapes. There were low, winding brooks and fruit trees. In the distance we could see the sun glinting off the cross atop a cupola on a moss-green monastery. Below us, the Seret River ran through the village, a turbid bubbling artery, its banks covered in mud and damp grass.

After asking a few villagers where the Kryvorukas lived, we drove up to a small blue house, the path to the front door flanked by gnarled grapevines. A man and a woman walked toward the car. The woman introduced herself as Ludmyla Kryvoruka. The man was her twin brother, Yuri. Yulka’s children.

Inside, we sat and offered each other apologetic smiles. After a few minutes of exchanging pictures, we began to communicate through Alex, our tour guide. I cleared my throat and said what I’d rehearsed in my head a dozen times—something about how unusually brave and heroic their father was and how he was responsible for all of us being here. Ludmyla’s eyes grew damp. Though their father had occasionally talked about the war, he apparently said little about my grandparents. Our encounter with the Kryvorukas was gentle, suffused with a kind of stilted warmth, but clumsy. And I discovered nothing new from them about Papa.

Later we learned that the house where my grandparents had hidden was still standing. It sat at the edge of the village, about two kilometers away. My mother, Ludmyla, and her son drove with Alex. Zoe, Jon, and I walked with Yuri and his dog.

After a kilometer we ambled down a steep grassy embankment to the muddy banks of the Seret. In the distance, at the edge of an untilled field, was the house. A broad, thickly forested hill rose behind it, marking the edge of the village. This was the forest where my Baba’s youngest brother, David, for whom I’m named, was shot and killed. The scattered bones of dozens of victims must still be lodged in the earth.

The house itself, like most homes in the village, was simple and crude, a dirty white-and-blue façade with a weathered brown roof. From 100 yards away, I could see the tiny attic window through which Papa kept watch.

By the time we crossed the field, Mom, Ludmyla, her son, and Alex were on the porch with the middle-aged woman who now owned the house. Inside, the floor was coated in dust and covered in bent metallic wires. Next to a low pile of splintered wood planks was a naked doll missing its legs, its head twisted all the way around.

To our left was the room where the policia took Yulka and fired a shot over his head. To our right, through the room covered in bent wire, was the entrance to the cellar.

The cellar was only about six stairs deep. By stair three, my throat started to close as I felt a rising sense of panic, a combination of claustrophobia and fear of insects and rats and whatever else might have been skittering around in that dank, pitch-black hole.

How 13 or 14 people could have fit down here was beyond me. I tried to engage in the imaginative exercise that I’d thought was the point of the trip, tried to picture what it would have been like to hide here, all those cramped and trembling bodies, the damp and mold in their lungs, the yeasty tang of animal fear, the knowledge that a cough or sneeze would mean instant death.

But it’s impossible to really imagine it. I saw it the way I’d see a suspenseful scene in a movie, staged and artificial. The idea of being down there, choked with dust, possibly moments away from oblivion, simply wasn’t something I could grasp. It certainly brought me no closer to my grandfather, and I’d begun to appreciate how insane it had been to assume that it would.

When we returned to Yuri’s home, Alex, Mom, and Ludmyla were talking to an old man who lived down the road. He had bright blue eyes and bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows. Alex asked the old man if he knew my grandfather’s family—Pohoryles was their name. He thought for a moment and then nodded, tentatively at first, then emphatically. “Yes,” said Alex. “He knows the name.”

“Nahmush,” Mom said, her voice earnest and hopeful. “My father’s name was Nahmush.”

The man thought again and this time his eyes lit up as he slapped the back of one hand into an upturned palm.

“Yes, yes,” Alex translated. “Nahmush Pohoryles. His family sold grain. Lived right over there.” He gestured to a house up the road. “Yes. I’m sure of it.”

As if on cue, we spotted an elderly woman hobbling toward us with a crude walking stick. She wore a black headscarf, even though it was probably 90 degrees in the midday sun. When Alex addressed her, her face brightened and she began speaking with great animation. The moment she heard the name Pohoryles, she nodded and pointed to the same house the old man had. She then went on a long monologue, and we listened with astonishment as Alex translated and revealed an impressive array of biographical detail. Her mother used to deliver milk to the Pohoryles. Baba’s mother used to give her a roll on Shabbat. Papa was the youngest of three brothers; he was handsome and charming, but very serious, a good businessman. Everyone knew and liked him.

Suddenly I could see Papa as a young man, his hair thick and black, his lean and handsome face radiating a friendly professional intensity. In the 1930s, Janow was a village of over 2,000 people, and everyone knew him. I’d devoted so much mental energy to picturing Papa in hiding that I hadn’t once attempted to picture him in his day-to-day prewar life. In 1938, he was 25 years old, a decade younger than I am now. That’s the only Nahmush these villagers knew. The tormented old man with the large bloodshot eyes, the man I knew when I was a child, would be totally alien to them.

Surely my grandfather wasn’t simply sitting around Janow waiting for the Nazis to invade, for his life to become a hopeless tragedy that would end in suicide. Standing there on a flower-dotted hill, drinking in the gorgeous sun-struck landscape, listening to these charming villagers talk about my Papa, I got a small taste of what it might have felt like to be in Janow before the war. I’d thought that the point of the trip was to see the blasted, war-torn landscape where he’d almost died, but instead I found the gorgeous pastoral village where he’d lived, where he’d been more than just a victim, where he’d been an actual three-dimensional person who played and loved and thrived, and perhaps this was a far richer, more valuable thing to discover.

For a moment, I found him. I can imagine my prewar grandparents as young and in love, splashing in the Seret, surrounded by wildflowers and turkeys, giggling and happy. Such simple joys don’t begin to make up for what happened to them. Nothing can. But there’s value in remembering that their lives were more than the war and its attendant trauma. It’s something that, in a moment of terrible loneliness and pain, my gentle Papa forgot.

***

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Auschwitz Memorial Sees Record Number of Visitors in 2016

World Youth Day was a large boost to attendance. But how about Pokémon Go?

The memorial and museum and Auschwitz-Birkenau announced on Monday that a record 2,053,000 people visited the former Nazi concentration camp in 2016. Tops among attendees are from Poland, the UK, the U.S., and Italy; 97,000 visitors came from Israel, a 59 percent increase from the year prior. Also boosting yearly attendance were the 155,000 people who visited for World Youth Day, including Pope Francis. Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the museum’s director, said eloquently, “In today’s world—torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse—it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past.”

A few weeks before the Pope visited Poland, there was hubbub about the fact that kids had begun playing Pokémon Go—a newly-released, augmented reality GPS-enabled videogame in which players try to catch, say, a Jigglypuff—at Auschwitz. The museum’s spokesman called it “disrespectful.” Tablet senior writer made the case otherwise, arguing that the forced emotion, the requisite sadness, that is struck upon young visitors is oppressive. “When urged to bow before death, life finds a way.”

Let these kids play their game, then, not even in Auschwitz, but especially there. Let them feel again that mad methectic magic Huizinga spoke about. They can’t make sense of Auschwitz, anyway; they can’t fathom what led to such brutality, can’t make sense of such hate. But they can catch a Jigglypuff and feel a burst of life whistling through the airless chambers of the factory of death. And that’s no small thing, no minor testament to the same resilience the Nazis eagerly and futilely tried to extinguish. Where better than Auschwitz to admit we’ll never have real knowledge, and where better to declare we’ll always have great games?

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Report on Anne Frank’s capture sparks frustration among experts

Following release of study suggesting Holocaust diarist and her family were not betrayed, Anne Frank House responds to criticism of its ‘obvious mistakes’

amsterdam-132-e1400073323897-847x543Exactly how the Holocaust’s most famous victim came to be captured by the Nazis has intrigued the public for decades. A new study produced by the Anne Frank House is providing the latest set of theories to embroil researchers yet again.

Released earlier this month, the report examines events and people surrounding the arrest of Anne Frank, her family and four other Jews who hid in the backrooms of an Amsterdam office building belonging to the company of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Unlike most prior studies, the new report focuses on possibilities other than the traditionally accepted “betrayal phone call” narrative, wherein someone who knew of the Jews in hiding reported them to authorities.

Calling the betrayal “an assumption that simmers on,” the Anne Frank House’s chief researcher, Gertjan Broek, told The Times of Israel the topic of the arrest is “one of the most frequently asked questions.”

To prepare their report, Broek and his team spent two years looking into details tied to the Nazis’ August 4, 1944, raid on the Secret Annex. According to Broek, there is no hard evidence behind a phone call having taken place, and it is just as likely that authorities descended on the office to investigate illegal workers, forged ration coupons, or other suspicious business practices.

In other words, Anne Frank and her family were not necessarily “betrayed,” but could have been the victims of happenstance in a Nazi-occupied city brimming with resistance activities. In Amsterdam, “everything was a risk, everything. [People could not] evade taking chances or risks,” said Broek.

However, the focus on possibilities other than a betrayal has irked some researchers, including Germany-based Melissa Müller, author of an acclaimed biography on Anne Frank published in 1998. According to Müller, the Anne Frank House’s new study is short on new facts and makes “obvious mistakes,” she said.

“This theory is not new at all, and there are not enough reliable sources to switch over to these ‘new’ explanations for the raid on the Prinsengracht,” said Müller. The Prinsengracht is a winding Amsterdam canal along which Frank’s office building resided, adjacent to a neighborhood — the Jordaan — filled with black market and resistance activity during 1944.

According to Müller and researcher Gerlof Langerijs, with whom she partnered to answer The Times of Israel’s questions, mistakes and “a lack of proof” in the Anne Frank House’s report have damaged its credibility.

“The reactions in the Netherlands are very negative,” said Müller. “[Broek] does not have any proof and is just causing confusion,” she said.

For instance, Müller took issue with Broek’s claim that the two-hour raid on the canal building was significantly longer than a normal Nazi arrest of Jews in hiding. According to Müller, two hours for such a raid was “not long at all, measured in 1944 circumstances and slower life speed,” said the author.

Müller also disagreed with the report’s claim that a lack of working telephone lines in Amsterdam during early August 1944 would have made a betrayal phone call unlikely. In Müller’s opinion, this is an example of researchers boosting a theory with questionable assumptions.

Müller does, however, agree with Broek that the betrayal phone call is something of a red herring, or, as she put it, “a mystification, and a typical example of how a story is passed on from one person to the next,” said Müller.

Another point of contention for Müller and Langerijs is the study’s assessment of workers in the warehouse below the Secret Annex, as well as travelling sales representatives who regularly visited the building. That some of these men and women were under the gaze of authorities for illegal activities has been known for decades, said Müller, yet there is still no evidence connecting one of them to the raid.

“Saying that there was ‘messing around with ration cards and illegal workers’ [as the study] suggests much, but proves nothing,” said Müller.

According to Broek and others at the Anne Frank House, the new research “doesn’t make claims that can’t be substantiated,” and possibilities such as the arrest being tied to something other than a phone call about Jews in hiding should be considered.

“Despite decades of research, betrayal as a point of departure has delivered nothing conclusive,” said Annemarie Bekker, spokesperson for the Anne Frank House, one of the Netherlands’ top tourist attractions.

“Our new investigation does not refute the possibility that the people in hiding were betrayed, but illustrates that other scenarios should also be considered,” Bekker told The Times of Israel. “Hopefully more researchers will see reason to follow up on new leads,” she said.

The ultimate ‘cold case’

For several decades, according to biographer Melissa Müller, the Anne Frank House “thought it was not their task to do any deeper research on the story by themselves, although they had some fine researchers on their staff,” she said.

“Back then the suggestions to take a deeper look into certain subjects were constantly put off the table,” said Müller. “To go public with this kind of research is new to them,” she said, referring to the report released this month about the fateful raid on Otto Frank’s office building.

In 2002, researchers including Müller’s colleague, Gerlof Langerijs, presented the Anne Frank House with a flowchart of possible “external factors,” or leads, which the Nazis might have been pursuing when they decided upon a raid, said Müller.

That it took the Anne Frank House 14 years to pursue these leads is “remarkable,” said Müller, who published an updated and expanded edition of her Anne Frank biography in 2013.

“In the past there were more and more urgent moments to point out this possibility,” said Müller.

“Many people think it is not much more than a publicity attempt,” said Müller of the study. “Just another theory after many theories have already been published — lacking convincing facts. In their letters to the editor, people complain about the study’s conclusion [being] based on ‘coincidences,’” she said.

According to Broek, he and Müller have met several times to discuss “every detail of Anne Frank’s life, and [the arrest] is always a part of the conversation,” he said. Broek emailed Müller a series of questions related to his study one year ago, to which the author responded, he said.

“I have not heard of any confusion inside of the Netherlands or outside of it,” said Broek about Müller’s claim the study is causing confusion.

Among other researchers of Anne Frank and the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam, there is general admiration for the arrest study. However, there is also frustration about an ongoing lack of closure.

“I still have the same opinion as I had before the publication of the new study of the Anne Frank House,” said Ad van Liempt, an expert on the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands during WWII and author of the book, “Hitler’s Bounty Hunters.”

Calling the study “well done and very interesting,” van Liempt added, “it is disappointing that there is no concrete conclusion. We cannot blame Mr. Broek and his research team. They did a good job, offered us a new view but couldn’t prove it. That is what, unfortunately, often happens in history research,” said van Liempt, who provided feedback to the Anne Frank House during the report’s creation, according to Broek.

“We know about thousands of Jews in the Netherlands, whether they were betrayed or not,” van Liempt told The Times of Israel. “But we don’t know about the most famous family of all, and sure, this bothers. I am still very curious, but I am afraid that I will never know what happened in this case,” said van Liempt.

Researchers close to Anne Frank’s story have expressed similar frustration, along with concerns that future research be directed toward appropriate ends.

“I cannot imagine that this new theory of happenstance rather than betrayal would have made one iota of difference to Miep Gies and the rest of the helpers, much less to Anne and the other six people in hiding who were murdered,” said journalist Steve North, referring to the Dutch woman who took care of the Jews in hiding and rescued Frank’s diary after the arrest.

North was the last journalist to interview Miep Gies before her death in 2010. He told The Times of Israel that Gies — were she still living — “might question why a new vague and ambiguous ‘research study’ was necessary at this particular time,” said North, whose 1998 interview with Gies took place in her Amsterdam apartment, where some of the Frank family’s furniture remained after the war.

‘I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed’
“I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed and flourishing,” said North.

Another writer who interviewed Gies is Alison Leslie Gold, author of the 1987 book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” in which Gold partnered with Gies to tell Frank’s story from the perspective of the woman who hid and cared for eight Jews in the Secret Annex and — rarely mentioned — an “underground” Dutch student who hid in her and husband Jan Gies’ apartment.

“I hesitate to weigh in,” said biographer Gold, “since analyzing the arrests from this ‘new’ angle — though it might shut some doors — also opens new doors, presents new implications, poses new questions,” Gold told The Times of Israel.

“It seems as if many more dots need to be connected before we reconfigure the tragedy that ended or blighted the lives of so many,” said Gold.

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