Category Archive: JTA

Norway’s state broadcaster airs ‘Jewish swine’ cartoon


(JTA) — Norway’s public broadcaster NRK defended a cartoon in which a Scrabble player forms the word “Jewish swine.”

The video, posted online earlier this month by the state-owned NRK  network, is titled “Scrabble” and was captioned “tag a Jew” on the Facebook page of the animators who created it, Norske Grønnsaker.

In it, a grey-haired man wearing a yarmulke and dressed like a haredi Jew is playing Scrabble with a younger man in shorts. The Jew is frustrated over how long his opponent is taking to construct a word. The camera switches to the young man’s point of view to reveal that he’s constructed the word “Jew swine” (one word in Norwegian) but has not revealed it yet.

The young man sighs in frustration as the Jewish player taunts him over his Scrabble skills. “We are clearly on different cognitive levels,” the Jew exclaims.

The cartoon’s airing by NRK, which has long been said to espouse a left-wing editorial line, evoked unusual support and praise by far-right figures, including the anti-Semitic Holocaust denier Hans Jørgen Lysglimt Johansen.

Ivar Staurseth, a journalist for the Minerva newspaper, on Facebook suggested the video was anti-Semitic. ”It’s not for nothing that suffix ‘swine’ doesn’t appear together with other groups/minorities,” he wrote.

NRK Entertainment editor Charlo Halvorsen rejected the allegation, telling Aftenpost Wednesday: “The Scrabble player made an indecent and indefensible word that we can’t and shouldn’t use. But he’s tempted to win.”

A Jewish family sold this Kandinsky painting to survive the Nazis. Amsterdam is keeping it anyway.

That was in 1940, several months into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, when Klein and her husband sold “Painting with Houses” for the modern-day equivalent of about $1,600 because they needed money to survive the Holocaust.

In its ruling last November, the Dutch Restitutions Committee accepted the family’s account.

But in an unusual and controversial departure from universal practices, the committee also determined  that the painting should not be returned to the family. It cited “public interest” in keeping the work on display at the Stedelijk, among other arguments.

It was the latest of several such refusals by the Netherlands based on what the Dutch Restitutions Committee introduced in 2013 as a “weighted interest” approach to looted art.

It has prompted outrage and concern by some experts, claimants and their representatives. They fear a precedent and see injustice by a country that used to be considered a model implementer of art restitution practices.

“These developments risk turning the Netherlands from a leader in art restitution to a pariah,” Anne Webber and Wesley Fisher wrote in a December op-ed in the Dutch daily NRC Hadelsblad. Webber is an art restitution expert and Fisher is the director of research for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Their essay was titled “It’s a scandal that this stolen art hangs at the museum.”

It is “particularly disturbing,” Fisher told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that this is happening in the Netherlands, which is one of only five countries (the others being Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and France) that set up committees to determine the provenance of suspect artworks. Such committees were a key requirement of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art – a landmark document agreed upon in 1998 by 44 countries.

Irma Klein sold “Painting with Houses” by Wassily Kandinsky during the Holocaust. (Courtesy of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam)

The principles are significant because they form the basis for handling countless claims that cannot be resolved in court because of statutes of limitations.

The document’s effect on restitution efforts remains inconclusive. More than 21 years after its publication, more than 100,000 paintings out of approximately 600,000 that the Nazis stole remain unreturned, according to Deutche Welle. Some of them hang in museums and private collections across Europe and beyond. Others are the subject of drawn-out legal fights.

Interviews with visitors to the Stedelijk suggest there is widespread support for the Dutch approach of resisting restitution to ensure public access to art.

“Art is meant to be viewed,” said Chloe van der Vlugt, a 19-year-old art student from Miami, Florida, who is in favor of keeping the disputed Kandinsky in the Stedelijk. The 1909 painting by the Russian artist features a mysterious figure crouched sorrowfully in a field opposite houses with radiant facades.

“A lot of pillage happened in art, whole countries have lost their treasures,” she added. “We need to move on.”

During two days of interviewing at random some 50 admirers of Kandinsky, JTA did not encounter a single person who favored returning the painting to the family after being informed of the dispute’s details. Those interviewed came from 10 countries, including Israel.

“I think it should stay here, Kandinsky belongs to all of humanity,” Liad Eini, 19, an Israeli art lover on leave from the army, said passionately during a visit – the second in two days — to the Stedelijk. The city-owned modern art museum, housed in a structure resembling a huge bathtub, is considered one of the world’s leading institutions of its kind.

Eini’s mother, Dorit, a teacher, hushed her son, reminding him to speak softly.

“Paintings reach museums at the end of sad stories and tragedies,” she said. “The Holocaust happens to be famous and evocative to us Jews, but it’s no exception to the various calamities behind many of these paintings all around us.”

All those interviewed said, however, that Klein’s family should be offered monetary compensation.

But the elaborate ruling of the Dutch Restitutions Committee, an advisory body whose establishment by the government in 2002 helped make Holland a pioneer in art restitution, offered no reference to compensation, according to Gert-Jan van den Bergh, the lawyer for the claimants, who do not wish to be named. His clients do not rule out a monetary settlement, he said.

(The value of the painting is not known, van den Bergh said, as it has never been appraised. But a Kandinsky painting similar in style to “Painting with Houses” and created the same year fetched $26 million at a London auction in 2017.)

The Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam had nearly 700,000 visitors in 2018. (Flickr)

Fisher, the Claims Conference representative, said the committee’s failure to  discuss a monetary settlement did not give the impression of good will.

“There are a good many ways in which a museum can agree that a painting belongs to the family but nonetheless retain the artwork,” he said. “It is not reasonable that the family in this case is not receiving anything.”

Queried about the possibility of compensation, Eric Idema, the general secretary of the Dutch Restitutions Committee, said he “cannot comment on this specific case.” Generally, he added, the committee has no mandate to offer compensation. Fisher, however, insisted that even a vague recommendation on a settlement would have put pressure on the Stedelijk Museum to offer the family some money.

Stedelijk has not made such an offer, van den Bergh said.

The museum, which is being sued by the family, has said it will keep to the letter of the binding recommendation of the Restitutions Committee, which said the museum is excused from any further action on Klein’s Kandinsky.

The committee also cited the failure of Klein, a Holocaust survivor who died in Amsterdam in 1983, to claim the painting, which the committee determined “had not been stolen or confiscated.” However, the committee did find that “the sale of the painting cannot, on the one hand, be considered in isolation from the Nazi regime,” but also owed to the dire financial straits faced by Klein and her husband in 1940.

It also said the Amsterdam municipality “bought the painting in good faith.”

Unusually, the committee then cited the painting’s prominent placement to explain its decision not to return it, saying in a statement that the artwork “has a significant place in the Stedelijk Museum’s collection.”

“The Committee concluded on the grounds of these interests that the city council is not obliged to restitute the painting,” the statement said.

The argument for keeping art accessible in resisting restitution claims is not new in court cases, according to Orna Artal, a co-founder of Ramos & Artal, a dispute resolution firm in New York and an expert on provenance and restitution of Nazi-looted art.

However, such reasoning is unusual to be invoked by a state-created restitution committee, Artal and Marika Keblusek, a lecturer from the University of Leiden who specializes in the study of looted art, confirmed.

According to the lawyer van den Bergh, it’s happening in the Netherlands in reaction to a massive restitution claim in 2006: Some 202 paintings were yanked from Dutch museums in favor of the Goudstikker family, whose claim was affirmed by the Restitutions Committee.

The first use of the “weighted interest” approach came seven years later, when the committee recognized that paintings belonging to the late Jewish art collector Richard Semmel were looted, but agreed to return only one. Four paintings that Semmel lost because of the Nazis were kept on display, citing the museums’ interest in keeping them accessible to the public.

It was a watershed moment for the Dutch Restitutions Committee, which has made about 170 recommendations, most of them binding rulings, pertaining to some 1,500 items. (Among the binding rulings, 84 were fully or partially in the applicants’ favor and 56 were to reject the claim in full.)

The introduction of the weighted interest approach means that “ownership of looted art outweighed rightful ownership,” Webber and Fisher wrote in their op-ed. And while the committee has ruled since 2013 in favor of returning some looted art, they added that weighted interest in principle means that “[n]o Dutch museum would ever need to return a single work of art ever again.”

Oregon passes law mandating schools teach about the Holocaust


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survivor Ed Mosberg, 93, is braving cancer to march at Auschwitz, perhaps for the last time

Flanked by two physicians who accompanied him all the way from New Jersey, Mosberg, who made his fortune in construction after surviving several Nazi concentration camps, traveled here Tuesday as he has done for at least 20 years to participate in the commemorative March of the Living through the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz near Krakow.

But suffering from recently diagnosed blood cancer, Mosberg says with characteristic bluntness: “I don’t know if I’ll be alive this time next year, much less able to travel and attend the march.”

He doesn’t fear death for two reasons, Mosberg said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“First, I already beat death once after the war when I had final stage tuberculosis – and I can do it again,” he said. “Second, I died already 70 years ago when the Germans murdered my whole family not far from here.”

For Mosberg, attending the march is “not any sign of victory,” he said.

“It’s just duty to name the perpetrators – the German nation. They and they alone bear responsibility, and certainly not the Poles,” he said.

At a time when the Polish government is fighting a controversial battle against what it perceives as attempts to place some blame on Poland for the genocide, Mosberg’s message is music to the ears of officials in Warsaw.

On Tuesday, the Polish government unexpectedly announced that it would award the nation’s highest non-military honor to Mosberg, the honorary president of the From the Depths commemoration group, the following day. Mosberg, who speaks fluent Polish, often stands out in March of the Living coverage as he walks in front wearing his original prisoner uniform.

He also brings to the marches – annual events featuring thousands of participants — a whip that he says was used to torture Jews at Mathausen, one of three Nazi camps Mosberg survived. That artifact, he said, tends to invoke keen interest during security checks at airports.

This year’s march includes Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, another Poland-born survivor, who used to be Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi. Several American diplomats, including the ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, also will attend, along with the head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog.

But they alone will not determine the future of Holocaust commemoration and the fight against anti-Semitism in a world without survivors, march organizers said.

“That fight belongs to young adults and youth leaders,” said Elie Klein, one spokeswoman for March of the Living.

Which is why this year’s march is the first since the event’s inception in 1988 that is preceded by a conference about anti-Semitism for emerging leadership from around the world. During that event, 20 representatives of prominent youth and young adults groups will issue “a rallying and defiant call to other youth to commemorate the Holocaust and help put an end to anti-Semitism before history repeats itself,” organizers wrote in a statement about the event.

The march takes place on Israel’s national day of mourning for the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah. This year it falls on May 2.

The march itself, a walk of about 1.5 miles from the Auschwitz camp to where the gas chambers used to stand at the Birkenau complex, takes just a couple of hours. In the hours leading up to the event, though, participants from dozens of countries interact across the sprawling former campground in the relative warmth of the southern Polish spring.

For some, it’s a rare chance to speak informally to attending celebrities and politicians before groups are formed for the actual march.

The lessons of the April 27 terrorist shooting attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, where a self-avowed white supremacist killed one person and wounded three others, feature prominently in the talks of some of the participants of this year’s march.

“The awful, senseless murder” is “just the latest in a seemingly endless string of violent anti-Semitic events — one of the most challenging periods in recent memory for the international Jewish community,” said Shmuel Rosenman, founder and co-chairman of the March of the Living.

Another first this year for the march – an event that has had more than 300,000 participants — is the attendance of soccer players from the New England Revolution team from the United States. Players and executives from the Chelsea soccer squad in the United Kingdom, which participated in the 2018 march, said they would be back this year.

This year’s march also will feature a ceremony remembering the tragedy of the Jews of Greece, which by far was the Nazi-occupied country with the highest death rate during the Holocaust. Greece lost more than 95 percent of its prewar Jewish population of 72,000.

In the wake of another deadly synagogue shooting, we need Holocaust education more than ever

By Janice Weinman & Ellen Hershkin

(JTA) — On the Shabbat morning of April 27, Hadassah member Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered while celebrating Passover at the Chabad of Poway. The synagogue’s rabbi, a male congregant and an 8-year-old girl were wounded as well by the self-avowed white supremacist shooter.

We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise globally, but grim statistics don’t adequately convey the terror of a shooting at synagogue or the anguish that comes with it.

The data also don’t convey the dreadfulness of less than lethal acts of anti-Semitism: A 9-year-old boy walking on the street and being punched in the face because he is wearing a yarmulke and has sidelocks, a Hasidic man being beaten and choked or high school students in Wisconsin proudly displaying the Nazi salute in a group photo.

Knowing that hatred exists is not enough. We also have to take active steps to combat it.

Teaching Holocaust history to children is one proactive way to combat today’s anti-Semitism. A child who understands the true impact of a swastika or recognizes the deeply ugly nature of a slur about Jews and money will be equipped to identify and call out anti-Semitism on their college campus, in their future industry and in their community.

While anti-Jewish bigotry is rising, memory of the Holocaust is waning. A recent survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 66 percent of American millennials do not know what Auschwitz was.

As Hadassah women, as mothers and grandmothers, as children and grandchildren of survivors, and as fighters for justice and humanity historically and today, we feel the responsibility to teach the next generation to recognize the risk of genocide so they are empowered to prevent it when they grow up.

But most states don’t include Holocaust education in their secondary school curricula. Students are learning about the battles of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima, but they don’t know what happened during the Holocaust to the Jewish people, to the Roma, to members of the LGBTQ community and to people with disabilities.

Some teachers don’t know how to teach such a sensitive subject or lack instructional resources or the funds to visit memorials. Others skip it because its inclusion isn’t mandated: Only nine states have laws requiring Holocaust education.

We need federal legislation to make robust anti-hate curricula accessible to every school.

That is why Hadassah is one of the leading not-for-profit organizations championing the bipartisan Never Again Education Act. This proposed legislation would create a $2 million discretionary fund within the U.S. Department of Education to support Holocaust education for middle and high school students in districts across the country. It would train classroom instructors, provide textbooks and resources, and help facilitate programs, speakers and visits to Holocaust museums and memorials.

The Never Again Education Act would help combat hate and contribute toward a generation of tolerant and responsible American citizens. The bill already has the support of 90 members of Congress. Hadassah’s 300,000 members and 300 organizational partners are mobilizing to encourage additional co-sponsors.

Hadassah turns its values into action every day, and we are committed to combating anti-Semitism through this powerful legislation. Let’s teach the next generation what can happen when anti-Semitism and hate crimes go unchecked and give them the tools to fix the rising intolerance in our communities. That is the way to ensure our children know and experience less hatred than we do.

A brave group of Polish diplomats tried to save my father from the Holocaust

By: Menachem Z. Rosensaft

A letter from the Consulate of the Republic of Paraguay in Bern, Switzerland, offering a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland citizenship (Courtesy of Menachem Rosensaft)

(JTA) — In recent days, the ongoing controversy over the role played by Poles during the Holocaust has intensified dramatically, with Poland withdrawing from a planned conference in Israel that also was to include Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia following unfortunate accusations by Israeli government officials.

While tensions are running high, a recently rediscovered letter sent to a Jew in 1943 Nazi-occupied Poland reinforces why we must eschew what World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder has termed “obnoxious and offensive stereotypes that have caused so much pain and suffering on both sides over the years,” and instead focus on the unsung individuals who undertook daring and often improbable rescue initiatives during the Holocaust.

I received a copy of the letter on Jan. 30, three days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It had been found in a Holocaust-era archive in Israel, and Markus Blechner, the honorary consul of Poland in Zurich, had kindly emailed it to me.

“Dear Mr. Rozenzaft,” the letter reads, “I am herewith honored to inform you that as the result of efforts by your relatives, you as well as your family have acquired Paraguayan nationality (Staatszugehőrigkeit).”

In Nazi-occupied Europe, for a Jew to be in possession of a genuine or forged passport, visa or other document indicating that the holder was a citizen or national of a neutral country, or had the necessary papers to travel to such a country, could mean the stark difference between survival and a more-than-likely death sentence. However tenuous, such documentation had the potential of providing a Jew with some seemingly official legitimacy that might persuade a German bureaucrat to allow the Jew in question safe passage, or at least spare him or her from deportation to a death camp.

The letter was dated Nov. 17, 1942, and was written on the letterhead of the Consulate of the Republic of Paraguay in Bern, Switzerland. It bore both the signature of that country’s honorary consul and the consulate’s seal, and was addressed to my father, Josef Rozenzaft (the Polish spelling of our family name became Rosensaft after the war) in Bendsburg, the Germanized name of his hometown of Będzin in a southern part of Poland that had been annexed by the Third Reich in 1939.

Josef Rosensaft was my father, but this was the first time I had seen this letter. I am quite certain that my father never received it or even knew of its existence.

According to a ledger page I received from Jakub Kumoch, the current Polish ambassador to Switzerland, the letter was sent to my father on May 25, 1943. By then, the Final Solution was in full force. On June 22 of that year, less than a month after the letter supposedly left Bern, my father was deported for the first time to Auschwitz. He escaped before he got there by diving from the moving train into the Vistula River, and although he was struck by three German bullets – one grazed his forehead, another hit his arm and a third remained lodged in his leg the rest of his life – my father managed to return to the Będzin Ghetto, only to be deported to Auschwitz again in late August 1943. He survived many months at Auschwitz followed by several other Nazi concentration camps, and was liberated by British troops at Bergen-Belsen in Germany on April 15, 1945.

The very fact that someone made an attempt, however futile, to rescue my father and his family at the height of the Holocaust is a stark reminder of the fact that heroic individuals in different parts of Europe were desperately trying as best they could to frustrate the Hitlerite plan to annihilate European Jewry.

We have long known that tens of thousands of Jews were able to escape almost certain death thanks to the protective documents issued by  diplomats from SwedenSwitzerlandJapanPortugalBrazilChinaPeru and other countries, often in defiance of their respective governments’ explicit orders.

Less well known, but no less deserving of lasting recognition and gratitude, is the clandestine initiative undertaken by a small group of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists in Switzerland.

Known as the Bernese Group, they forged Latin American passports and issued certifications of Paraguayan nationality for Jews in Poland and elsewhere facing almost certain annihilation. This endeavor was largely funded by the Geneva office of the World Jewish Congress through an organization called RELICO (the Relief Committee for the War-Stricken Jewish Population) headed by Dr. Abraham Silberschein, a former member of the Polish Parliament.

Konstanty Rokicki, a Polish consul, together with Julius Kuhl, a Jewish attache at the legation, bribed Latin American diplomats – in particular the above mentioned honorary consul of Paraguay – to obtain blank passports, which Rokicki then proceeded to forge manually. Rokicki also obtained blank signed letters from the honorary consul, such as the one sent to my father, stating that the recipient was a Paraguayan national.

Aleksander Lados, the Polish ambassador to Switzerland, oversaw both the operation and its cover-up, provided his fellow conspirators with diplomatic support and convinced the Swiss authorities to turn a blind eye to the group’s efforts. Helped by Jews in Switzerland with contacts in various ghettos of Poland, including Alfred Schwartzbaum, a refugee from my father’s hometown living in Lausanne who gave the diplomats my father’s name, the Bernese Group compiled lists of Jews for whom the forged passports or nationality letters could be created, and then arranged for the fake documents to be smuggled to the Warsaw Ghetto, Będzin and other locations in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The Bernese Group also provided passports to Dutch, Slovakian, Hungarian and German Jews. One such false passport, in the name of Jan Lemberg, enabled a future French prime minister, Pierre Mendès-France, to travel from Geneva through occupied France to Portugal and from there to London.

While most of the thousands of passports and letters of nationality manufactured by the Bernese Group either did not reach their intended destination or proved to be of little if any avail, hundreds of the documents were in fact honored or resulted in their holders receiving preferential treatment from the German authorities that enabled them to survive.

We cannot and must not overlook those Poles who betrayed their Jewish neighbors to the Germans, who killed Jews or who profiteered from the ghettoization and deportation of Polish Jewry. But at a time when historians and politicians debate what did and what did not happen in Poland during the years of the Holocaust, it is equally important for us to publicly acknowledge and honor those Poles, like the diplomats in Bern, who altruistically sought to save Jewish lives.

The current Polish ambassador to Switzerland, Kumoch, dedicates himself to integrating the accomplishments of the Bernese Group into the historiography of the Holocaust. He emphasized in an interview on Polish radio in 2018 that the Bernese Group was “a Polish-Jewish operation,” and that those who categorize it as only Polish or only Jewish “falsify history.”

Kumoch is indeed an admirable and worthy successor to Ambassador Lados and the other members of the Bernese Group who did not know my father but nonetheless tried to throw him a lifeline in what was truly humankind’s darkest hour.

MENACHEM Z. ROSENSAFT is general counsel at the World Jewish Congress and teaches about the law of genocide at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell universities. His father, Josef Rosensaft, headed the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany from 1945 to 1951.