Category Archive: JTA

The last link to a doomed Jewish community in Crete watches its rebirth with gratitude

By Roger Rapoport

Kostas Papadopoulos was one of the few survivors of the 1944 British attack on the ship Tanais carrying Crete’s Jews. (Roger Rapoport)

HANIA, Crete (JTA) — On Sunday, 263 candles will be lit at a special interfaith memorial service at this lovely city’s historic Etz Hayyim Synagogue. The names of local Jews who perished during the Holocaust will be read before a delegation that is expected to include Chief Rabbi Gabriel Negrin of Athens, Greek Orthodox and Catholic clergy, and ambassadors from Italy, Germany and Israel.

One person who wanted to be here will be missing. His name is Kostas Papadopoulos, who may be the last surviving link to a proud 2,300-year Jewish lineage and the tragic military decision that virtually eliminated one of Europe’s oldest Jewish communities.

His story dates back to May 29, 1944, when he was just 2 years old. On that day, German secret police singled out and rounded up 263 people across Greece’s largest island. All were arrested and carted off to Agia Prison for the crime of being Jewish.

Eleven days later they were forced at gunpoint into the hold of a Greek merchant vessel, the Tanais, set to sail for Piraeus.

“A higher proportion of the Jewish community of Crete was deported by the Nazis toward a death camp than of any country in Europe,” said Rabbi Nicholas de Lange, a professor emeritus of Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of Cambridge who conducts High Holiday services here.

None of the prisoners would make it to Piraeus and a train bound for Auschwitz. When the ship left Heraklion as part of an announced “civilian” convoy, a British submarine captain, certain that the Tanais was piloted by a German military crew, targeted it near Santorini. Unaware of the human cargo below deck, which also included Christian Greek and Italian prisoners of wars, he ordered the crew to blow up the ship.

A direct hit with two torpedoes killed nearly everyone on board. The sole survivors were half a dozen Cretan Jews who escaped the Germans in May 1944 by hiding with Christian families.

Papadopoulos is the last of the survivors still living, Jewish historians working at Etz Hayyim believe.

A view of the southern coast of Crete in June 1943. (German Federal Archive/Wikimedia Commons)

I recently met him in Heraklion, Crete’s largest city, after a short drive from the ship that brought me to Crete from Piraeus. My overnight journey crossed the same waters where the Tanais and its hundreds of victims remain entombed. Papadopoulos, a dealer and appraiser of fine Christian art, spoke at Daedalou Gallery, his elegant shop in the heart of an upscale shopping neighborhood where tourists love to haggle.

His survival traces back to his Jewish mother Xanthippe’s decision to marry a Christian during the German occupation. After Papadopoulos was born in 1942, his Christian father moved to Athens, leaving his young son with his mother and grandmother. In 1944, when it became clear that the Nazi roundup was imminent, the three of them moved into hiding with a Greek farm family outside Heraklion.

“My mother knew the Nazis were coming,” Papadopoulos said. “Fortunately my family name was Greek, which helped us escape the Germans. It also made it easier to find a family willing to take the risk of hiding us.

“Some of the Greeks who heroically hid Jews were executed as collaborators, but fortunately that was not the fate of the family that protected us. They even returned special paintings we had given them to hide.”

For Papadopoulos, who grew up in Greece and learned his trade as an auction house apprentice in Europe and New York, returning to Crete in the 1970s was not a quick or easy decision.

“People who do what I do, selling religious art, live in places like New York or Switzerland,” he said. “But I wanted to be close to my friends, the people I grew up with.”

One of the challenges that comes with operating a first class gallery in a place like Hania is the flood of bargain hunters arriving by plane and ship, many of them Germans.

“Customers are used to looking at knockoffs. When they see real art, some believe the prices are too high,” he said.

After cultivating his reputation as an art and antiquities appraiser, Papadopoulos has little patience for customers who try to talk him down on valuable icons and jewelry.

Several years ago, when a towering Chinese tourist made a ridiculous offer of 10 euros for a valuable icon worth far more, Papadopoulos stood his ground. The angry customer knocked him down. The art dealer is still recovering from the attack, saying it has limited his mobility and made it impossible for him to return to Hania, two hours away, for this week’s memorial.

While Heraklion’s defunct synagogue was destroyed by the Germans at the beginning of the Battle of Crete in May 1941, Papadopoulos has eagerly connected with Etz Hayyim in Hania.

A view of the Crete Holocaust memorial on the harbor of Hania. (Etz Hayyim Synagogue)

The historic sanctuary was looted by the Nazis and fell into disrepair following the Holocaust. Years after graves were robbed and the synagogue site became a local dump, an international effort led to its rebuilding under the leadership of the late Nikos Stavroulakis, former head of Athens’ Jewish Museum of Greece.

The reconstruction, completed in 1999, was largely the work of a Muslim and Christian crew from Albania. Rededication led to the creation of a havurah, an interfaith community including Jews, Christians and Muslims enthusiastic about Stavroulakis’ work and inclusive approach. He defined Etz Hayyim as a “place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation,” making it open to everyone, in the tradition of Hellenistic synagogues.

This fraternity shares common values of Abraham despite their different religious affiliations. Even a pair of 2010 arson attacks that destroyed many important records failed to slow down the rebirth of this interfaith community supported by donations from around the world.

Anja Zuckmantel, the synagogue administrator at the heart of this week’s event memorializing the 263 Tanais victims, moved here from Germany 10 years ago.

“Our congregation grows in part because so many Jewish tourists want to come and see what we have done,” she said. “At our summer Kabbalat Shabbat services, we have services with up to 60 participants. The number of Jews settling in Crete is slowly but steadily growing as Crete is a beautiful place to live.”

Kostas Papadopoulos may not make it to Hania for the annual Tanais memorial service, but he’ll be there in spirit.

Items on just one table at his Daedalou Gallery are not for sale. It is covered with Judaica, including a menorah, Torah pointers, a samovar and other heirlooms.

“To be happy,” he said, “I always have to see them.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/06/12/news-opinion/the-last-link-to-a-doomed-jewish-community-in-crete-watches-its-rebirth-with-gratitude

When Jewish students in America raised alarms about the Holocaust

By David Golinkin and Noam Zion

Buddy Sachs, top, and Noah Golinkin led efforts in 1943 as rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary to alert Americans about the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews. The cover of Yeshiva University’s student newspaper, The Commentator, from March 4, 1943, shows how other Jewish students responded. (Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Seventy-five years ago this month, a handful of rabbinical students in New York City helped mobilize hundreds of churches and synagogues nationwide to cry out against the Nazis’ mass murder of European Jewry.

That remarkable interfaith protest is omitted from the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new exhibit on “Americans and the Holocaust,” which explores how much Americans knew about the Nazi persecution of the Jews and how early they knew it. The students’ actions were a significant part of that story and deserve to be told.

Our fathers, the late Noah Golinkin and Buddy Sachs, together with their friend Jerome Lipnick, were students at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in late 1942 when news about the slaughter of Europe’s Jews was publicly confirmed by the Allies. The students were shocked — not only by the news of the mass killings, but by the refusal of the Roosevelt administration to do anything beyond verbally condemn the Nazis and the timidity of ultra-cautious American Jewish leaders.

So the JTS students took matters into their own hands. They organized an extraordinary Jewish-Christian interseminary conference in February 1943 to raise public awareness about the Holocaust. Hundreds of students and faculty from 13 Christian and Jewish seminaries attended, with sessions alternating between JTS and its Protestant counterpart, the nearby Union Theological Seminary. The speakers and panel participants included prominent Jewish and Christian leaders along with an array of refugee and relief experts.

The conference was an important first step, but the students didn’t stop there. Next they turned to the Synagogue Council of America, the national umbrella group for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues. At the students’ behest, the council launched a seven-week publicity campaign to coincide with the traditional period of semi-mourning between Passover and Shavuot.

A student interfaith to consider plans for the rescue of European Jewry was held at the Union Theological Seminary and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Feb. 22, 1943. (Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

Seventy-five years ago this month, synagogues throughout the country adopted the committee’s proposals to recite special prayers for European Jewry; limit their “occasions of amusement”; observe partial fast days and moments of silence; and write letters to political officials and Christian religious leaders.

They also held memorial protest rallies, at which congregants wore black armbands designed by Golinkin — three decades before Vietnam War protesters would adopt a similar badge of mourning.

These rallies held on May 2, 1943, in many instances were led jointly led by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis — an uncommon display of unity. Equally significant, the Federal Council of Churches, whose foreign secretary had addressed the students’ interseminary conference earlier that year, agreed to organizememorial assemblies at churches in numerous cities on the same day.

Many of the assemblies featured speeches by both rabbis and Christian clergymen, as well as prominent political figures. Prayer services and rallies were held across the United States in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Hartford, Providence, Chattanooga and Kansas City, as well as in the state of Nebraska.

The gatherings received significant coverage in newspapers and on radio. “Milwaukee Churches Call on U.S., Allies to Open Doors to Refugees,” one headline read. “Nazi Barbarism Condemned by Pastor at Temple Service,” another declared.

This important Jewish-Christian alliance helped raise American public awareness about the Nazi slaughter of European Jewry, and increased the interest of Congress and the media in the possibility of rescuing Jews from Hitler — which, in turn, turned up the pressure on the White House to take action.

At a time when the prevailing assumption was that nobody cared and nothing could be done to save Jews from Hitler, three rabbinical students managed to mobilize Christian sympathy for Hitler’s victims and convince a major Jewish organization to undertake a nationwide protest campaign.

Last year, when staffers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum began designing “Americans and the Holocaust,” Holocaust historian Dr. Rafael Medoff and David Golinkin met with two senior museum officials. We presented them with a copy of the book we co-authored, “The Student Struggle Against the Holocaust.” We explained the significance of the students’ actions. In the months to follow, we reiterated those points in correspondence with the exhibit curators. Actually the staffers already had all the documentation in their own files before we approached them.

We were surprised and saddened to discover this week that the interfaith protest campaign by synagogues and churches throughout the United States in the spring of 1943 is not mentioned in the exhibit. Likewise, there is no mention of the remarkable conference of Christian and Jewish seminary students. One article that our fathers wrote is buried in an interactive display about media coverage of the Holocaust — and there is no mention of the conference or the campaign.

Obviously we felt it is important to honor our fathers (in keeping with the fourth of the Ten Commandments), but the issue has broader significance, which is why we are publishing this article. These student protests by clergy are a vital chapter in the history of American responses to the Holocaust because they were forerunners of the mass interfaith protests by students and clergy for human rights and human lives since the 1960s that shook American politics then, but failed to do so in the 1940s.

The running theme of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new exhibit is that anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment were extremely strong among the American public in those days. That point comfortably fits the exhibit’s argument that it was impossible for FDR to do very much to help Jewish refugees.

But sometimes history is not so black and white. While there were many bigots in those days, there were many good people, too. While many Jews were afraid to protest against an otherwise friendly administration at the time, our fathers showed something bolder could still be envisioned and attempted when they helped mobilize thousands of good people, of all faiths, to speak out. That is an important part of the story, and it should have been included in this major new exhibit.

(Rabbi David Golinkin is president of the Schechter Institutes, Inc., Jerusalem. Noam Sachs Zion is a senior researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem.)

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/05/07/news-opinion/jewish-students-america-raised-alarms-holocaust

A Holocaust exposé angered Lithuanian nationalists. Now lawmakers want to ban critical scholarship.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at the European Council leaders’ summit in Brussels, March 23, 2018. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The Lithuanian parliament is preparing to vote on a government-sponsored bill that would ban selling material that “distorts historical facts” about the nation.

The bill, which Economy Minister Virginijus Sinkevičius submitted Monday, is widely seen as a response to the controversy in Lithuania around the publication of a 2016 book about the Holocaust titled “Our People.” Viewed by some nationalists as an insult to the Lithuanian nation, it is also credited with breaking some taboos in Lithuanian society about collaboration during World War II.

The bill, which according to the Delfi news agency is an amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection, provoked passionate condemnations in Lithuania and beyond by critics who said it curtails freedom of speech and debate about the genocide, in which 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews were killed, mostly by other Lithuanians.

Whereas several Eastern European countries have laws that limit free speech about the Holocaust, including Poland, Ukraine and Latvia, the bill targeting the sale of critical books “would be, if passed into law, one of the most blatant and harshest of them all,” said Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, who co-authored “Our People” with Rūta Vanagaite, a best-selling novelist.

Last year, the Alma Littera publishing house in Lithuania recalled another book by Vanagaite after she spoke in an interview about Adolfas Ramanauskas, an anti-Soviet combatant during the war, who admitted to commanding troops that witnesses said butchered Jews in the ghetto of Druskininkai, 75 miles southwest of Vilnius.

Vanagaite’s controversial statement was not about the Holocaust. She said her research into Ramanauskas’ death in 1957 suggested he committed suicide after betraying the names of fellow nationalists to the KGB, which captured Ramanauskas the previous year.

“Rūta Vanagaitė’s statements are unacceptable to us and incompatible with the values of the Alma Littera publishing house,” its CEO, Danguolė Viliūnienė, said in a statement. Vanagaite has since left Lithuania.

Last week, The New York Times published an  article about the Holocaust at the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, a state-run institution tht until 2011 did not mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

In Lithuania, “genocide” is used refer to the events that followed its domination by the former Soviet Union. While Soviet rule was harsh, few outside of Lithuania agree that the USSR aimed to wipe out the Lithuanian people.

A Holocaust exposé angered Lithuanian nationalists. Now lawmakers want to ban critical scholarship.

10,000 march in Paris to memorialize slain Holocaust survivor

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Jews at a march in Paris in memory of Mireille Knoll, March 28, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

PARIS (JTA) — At least 10,000 people participated in a memorial march in Paris for an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was burned and found dead with 11 stab wounds.

Many of the marchers Wednesday were Jews, and some wore Israeli flags at the march for Mireille Knoll, who was found in her apartment last Friday. The march began at the Paris Nation square and culminated at the apartment.

The march, which was covered heavily by French media, was encouraging for French Jews, who in the past have felt ignored by their government. Authorities believe Knoll was murdered by her Muslim neighbor in an anti-Semitic hate crime.

One participant, Holocaust survivor Nicole Friedman, told JTA that she came to the march “because I’m Jewish, and because I lived through the war.” Flanked by her daughter, Friedman marched slowly with the aid of a cane.

Another marcher, Alain Ndigal, wore an Israeli flag. Ndigal is of African descent and not Jewish.

“I came because this barbarity concerns us all,” the 48-year-old mechanic said.

Meanwhile, the appearance of Marine Le Pen, head of France’s far-right National Front party, caused a small scuffle to break out. Dozens of her supporters shouted “Marine is with us” while others shouted “N for Nazi,” referencing the first letter of her party’s name in French.

The head of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities, Francis Kalifat, had said that neither leaders from the National Front nor the Insubmissible France far-left movement were welcome due to their history of perceived anti-Semitism. Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of Insubmissible France, also attended the march, ignoring Kalifat’s call.

Earlier Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron attended Knoll’s funeral in the Paris suburb of Bagneux. He wore a kippah and was seen talking with Knoll’s friends and relatives.

Knoll’s attacker “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history,” he said at the funeral.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/03/28/news-opinion/10000-march-in-paris-to-memorialize-killed-holocaust-survivor

30 years later, the author of ‘The Devil’s Arithmetic’ has a new young adult Holocaust novel

By Penny Schwartz

“Mapping the Bones” is the third Holocaust-themed book by Jane Yolen. (Penguin Random House/Jason Stemple)

BOSTON (JTA) — More than 30 years ago, Jane Yolen had already made her mark in the world of children’s literature. Among the nearly 100 books she had written were fantasies and folk tales, picture books and the popular “Captain Toad” chapter book series. Her gift for spinning original fairy tales earned her the reputation as the American Hans Christian Anderson.

But when her editor, Deborah Brodie, suggested she write a Jewish children’s book, Yolen dismissed the idea.

Sure, she was Jewish, she recalled telling Brodie, who was Jewish, too. But, growing up, Yolen’s family wasn’t particularly observant. And although she had minored in religious studies at Smith College, Yolen told Brodie she would have to do as much research as someone who wasn’t Jewish.

Brodie persisted.

“She was a classic nudzh,” Yolen recalled fondly all these years later of the late editor, a giant in the world of children’s publishing.

But Yolen, best known as a fantasy writer, had a spark of an idea for a Holocaust story that would lead with a girl bored and indifferent at her grandparents’ Passover seder. When Hannah opens the door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she finds herself transported back in time to a Polish shtetl where the Jewish villagers are on the verge of being shipped to a German Nazi concentration camp. Only Hannah knows the horrifying tragedy that the future will bring.

Yolen relented and wrote a first chapter. She assumed it would end at that. Instead, Brodie sent back a contract.

“I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to try this,’” she said in a phone conversation with JTA from her home in western Massachusetts.

The result was “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” a Holocaust novel that when it appeared in 1988 was nothing like anything that had come before. The book garnered critical acclaim, earned multiple book awards and was made into an Emmy-winning Showtime film starring Kirsten Dunst.

The popular fantasy novel has sold more than 1.8 million copies, is used widely in middle schools across the country and has been in continuous print since publication.

Now, three decades later, Yolen, 79, has written “Mapping the Bones” (Philomel), a Holocaust novel for a new generation of teens. The year is 1942, in the Lodz ghetto in Poland, where 14-year-old twins Chaim and Gittel Abromowitz make a daring escape with their family. Separated from their parents in the forest, the twins hide with Polish partisans, and are later captured by German soldiers and forced into a slave labor camp.

Through brutal treatment, suffering and loss, the sister and brother bond with other camp prisoners, sustain each other, and find light through the young boy’s moving poetry that serves as a testament to loss and memory.

“Mapping the Bones” is Yolen’s third Holocaust novel; the second was “Briar Rose” (1992).

“I look at all three and I realize it’s not just the Holocaust that binds them together. It’s remembering,” she said.

“Whenever we think of the Holocaust, we think of remembering. We think of never forgetting. Soon all we will have are the stories. Soon we will have no one left who was there.”

Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic” was a hit after being published in 1988. (Penguin Random House)

“The Devil’s Arithmetic” was a trailblazer, according to Norman H. Finkelstein, an author of nonfiction for older kids and two-time winner of the National Jewish Book award. Three decades ago, at a time closer to the war, the idea of writing about the Holocaust was still difficult, said Finkelstein, a retired public school librarian in the Boston suburb of Brookline.

“It was a different Holocaust book. It was not strictly factual, it was not a memoir,” Finkelstein told JTA in a recent conversation. “Jane did a superb job in taking the story of the Holocaust down to a level that ordinary American kids could understand and digest, and present it in a sympathetic manner. The characters were realistic, not paper cutouts.”

Educators immediately seized on the book to teach about the tragedies of the Holocaust, he recalled.

There’s an inherent tension in presenting the Holocaust in young adult fiction, according to Daniel Magilow, a Holocaust scholar and professor of German studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

On one hand, writers need to create young characters with whom readers can identify, said Magilow, a former fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who writes on the subject of Holocaust representation. Books for younger readers tend to be redemptive, and if not upbeat they at least suggest that adversity can be endured and overcome.

The problem? This does not square with the historical reality with how children were treated during the Holocaust.

“We are reminded that the very young and the very old were immediately slated for the gas chambers,” Magilow said.

Magilow cautioned that Holocaust fiction should not be presented uncritically, but should be taught “in the context of the uncomfortable truths.” It’s important to educate kids about tragedies that occur in the world, but it’s a complex balancing act.

“It’s devastating material,” he said, “and there’s no way around it.”

Yolen acknowledged the balancing act in an author’s note for “Briar Rose,” which is set at the Chelmno extermination camp in Poland.

“[T]his is a book of fiction. All the characters are made up,” she wrote. “Happy-ever-after is a fairy tale notion, not history. I know of no woman who escaped from Chelmno alive.”

“The Devil’s Arithmetic” struck a chord for Deborah Berlin, who read the book more than 15 years ago, when she was about 10 years old, she recalled in a recent phone conversation. As a child growing up outside of Boston, she knew that half her family had perished in the Holocaust. Reading Yolen’s historical fantasy stirred an emotional connection to the incomprehensible loss, she recalled.

“It was my gateway” to read more books in a quest for a deeper understanding of the Holocaust, said Berlin, now a middle-school math and science teacher at the Rashi School, a Reform Jewish K-8 day school in suburban Boston. Yolen’s fantasy and other works of fiction are especially important to today’s teens, who may feel disconnected from the Holocaust, she has observed.

“Mapping the Bones” is Yolen’s 366th book. As Yolen sets out on a whirlwind series of book talks and conferences, the author said she had not planned to write a third Holocaust novel.

The idea for the Hansel and Gretel-like narrative emerged in a conversation with an editor, who like Brodie three decades earlier, urged Yolen to take on the project.

In four years of being immersed in Holocaust research and writing, there were also lighter and happier books, Yolen said. Among them was “Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook,” written with her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple.

“But the things that feed the soul are [books] like ‘Mapping the Bones,’” Yolen reflected. “As hard as it was, I know I was meant to write this book.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/03/14/arts-entertainment/30-years-later-author-devils-arithmetic-new-young-adult-holocaust-novel

Panel Finds ‘No Proof’ Waldheim Committed War Crimes, but Says He Lied About His War Record

An international commission of historians has found “no proof” that Kurt Waldheim committed war crimes, according to the 200-page report it submitted to Chancellor Franz Vranitzky here Monday night.

But the Austrian president was far from an innocent bystander when he served as a lieutenant in the German army occupying the Balkans in World War II, according to several members of the panel who commented on the text of the report before it was made public.

The historians’ report originally was scheduled to be released Monday, but some news reports late in the day said the Austrian Foreign Ministry suppressed the report at the last minute. The ministry obtained an advance summary of the document on Sunday.

The report was later released, but only after the historians reportedly complied with a demand from the Foreign Ministry to excise references to the Austrian president’s “moral guilt.”

WALDHEIM REPORTEDLY BRIEFED

According to the news reports, Waldheim himself was briefed about the contents of both the original and the revised reports prior to the final version’s release.

The commission was set up by the Austrian government last year to examine Waldheim’s wartime record in light of charges that he was implicated in the deportation of Greek Jews and others and in atrocities committed against Yugoslav civilians and resistance fighters.

The head of the panel, Swiss military historian Rudolf Kurz, announced Monday that the commission found no proof that Waldheim personally took part in war crimes, but charged that the Austrian president concealed and “even lied” about his wartime activities.

The leaders of Austria’s Socialist-Conservative coalition government each had different reactions to the report. Vranitzky, leader of the Socialist Party, said he was deeply concerned by the findings.

He said that while the panel found no personal guilt, its report contained some very critical passages about the Austrian president’s military service.

Foreign Minister Alois Mock, who is vice chancellor and chairman of the conservative Peoples Party, stressed the fact that Waldheim was absolved of personal guilt. He said that while there were some remarks critical of the president, the commission’s mandate had been solely to determine guilt or innocence of war crimes.

‘AN ACCOMPLICE’

A West German member of the commission, Manfred Messerschmidt, told the West German newspaper Die Welt on Monday that Waldheim “knew his unit committed war crimes.” He said that on that basis, the commission concluded unanimously that Waldheim could be considered “an accomplice.”

Another member, Jan van Welkhuizen of Belgium, said in a French television interview that he believed Waldheim played a significant role in the Wehrmacht’s action, which resulted in the deportation of about 63,000 Yugoslav civilians, including 23,000 children.

“The report will not be a whitewash and at the president’s (Waldheim’s) office, they will not be very happy about it,” said van Welkhuizen.

He said the commission’s findings consist of a “series of mosaics,” not a single report. Observers here said, in that case, Waldheim will be able to stress whatever he finds useful to his case.

A summary of the final paragraphs of the report, obtained by the Austrian Press Agency, reflects a degree of ambiguity on the part of its authors or possibly pressure by the Foreign Ministry to soften or generalize the language.

It states at one point that “a certain guilt may arise” from “sheer knowledge about the violation of human rights” if “the person in question, be it because of a lack of strength or courage, violates his human duty to stand up to injustice.”

Later on, however, the report seems almost to absolve Waldheim, saying he had “only modest means at his disposal for resistance against injustice.”

“For a young member of the staff, the practical possibilities of acting against the orders are very limited and with all probability would have had hardly an effect. His means would have had to be restricted to protests or to a practical denial of his cooperation,” the report says.

NO PLANS TO RESIGN

Waldheim’s spokesman, Jerold Christian, said Monday “the president will not resign whatever the results of (the commission’s) findings.”

Sources close to Waldheim told Austrian Radio that his decision not to resign “whatever the findings” was bolstered by a public opinion poll taken last week. The poll found that 72 percent of the respondents believed he should stay in office, regardless of the commission’s conclusions.

The poll showed that among members of Waldheim’s People’s Party, 92 percent favored his remaining in office.

Waldheim, who served two terms as secretary general of the United Nations, was elected president of Austria in June 1986.

The first revelations of his Nazi past surfaced during the election campaign in evidence presented by the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups.

Evidence continued to mount from many other sources. Despite Waldheim’s vociferous denials, he was forced to admit that for 40 years he had concealed his wartime service.

His name, in fact, appears on the list of 40,000 suspected Nazi war criminals compiled by the Allied War Crimes Commission during and directly after the war.

The War Crimes Commission turned its list over to the United Nations in 1947. The war crimes files remained accessible only to the governments of U.N. member states until late last year, when, at the urging of Israel, they were opened to the public.

Source: https://www.jta.org/1988/02/09/archive/panel-finds-no-proof-waldheim-committed-war-crimes-but-says-he-lied-about-his-war-record

Poland’s president visits Krakow JCC amid tensions over Holocaust law

Polish President Andrzej Duda at the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, Nov. 28, 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The president of Poland visited the Jewish community center in Krakow amid tensions with the Jewish community over a controversial new Holocaust law.

Andrzej Duda visited the center on Tuesday and met with Jewish leaders. He said of his government’s relations with the Jewish community, according to the Polish-language newspaper Gazeta Wyborca, “I would not call it a crisis, just a cry which I hope will be quickly resolved.”

The law, which takes effect at the end of the month, criminalizes claims that the Polish nation or state was responsible for Nazi crimes. Violators could face up to three years in prison, though government officials say prosecution under the law is unlikely.

The law, an amendment to the National Institute on Remembrance, “did not raise my doubts as a lawyer,” Duda said at the JCC. “But there have been dramatic interpretations. There were people among Poles who denounced Jews among Poles, but not the entire Polish nation. All simplifications are very painful.”

Duda added that he sent the law to the Constitutional Tribunal and “I hope that it will soon speak on this subject, which will help settle the dispute.”

He met with leaders of the Krakow Jewish community, including Tadeusz Jakubowicz; Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland; and Jonathan Ornstein, the JCC’s director.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/02/27/news-opinion/polands-president-visits-krakow-jcc-bid-appease-jewish-community

Owner unveils Albert Einstein letter thanking Chicago man for saving Jews

Albert Einstein, circa 1946. (Central Press/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A letter from Albert Einstein to a Chicago man thanking him for helping Jews to escape Nazi Germany has been made public by his daughter.

Enid Bronstein has kept the letter penned by Einstein in a safe deposit box for the last 50 years, she toldChicago’s WGN TV.

The letter was written to David Finck, a New York financier who helped fund the emigration of Jewish refugees from Europe in 1939 before the outbreak of World War II.

“May I offer my sincere congratulations to you on the splendid work you have undertaken on behalf of the refugees,” Einstein said in the letter written in June 1939. It is one of three such letters known to be written by Einstein, himself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

“The power of resistance which has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years has been based to a large extent on traditions of mutual helpfulness. We have no other means of self-defense than our solidarity and our knowledge that the cause for which we are suffering is a momentous and sacred cause,” the letter also said.

Bronstein said she guarded the letter carefully after he died 50 years go. “I wanted to keep the letter to show it to my children and grandchildren so that they would get the message that every contribution, no matter how small, is important,” she told WGN.

She said she will donate it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. She could have sold it for thousands of dollars.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/02/22/news-opinion/united-states/owner-unveils-albert-einstein-letter-thanking-chicago-man-for-saving-jews