Category Archive: JTA

Sweden to create Holocaust museum

(JTA) — Sweden has plans to launch a Holocaust museum with a focus on Holocaust survivors from the Scandinavian country and a center devoted to the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Announcing the decision to create the museum, Swedish Minister of Social Affairs and Sports Minister Annika Strandhall‏ said Tuesday on Twitter that the news “feels more important than ever.”

The museum is likely to be built in Malmo, a city of approximately 350,000 where dozens of anti-Semitic incidents are recorded annually. It is tentatively slated to be ready to open in 2020, the Dagen news website reported.

A center on Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust, is expected to attract international visitors, according to Dagen.

The museum will focus on surviving Swedes and collect items, interviews and documents about their experiences. Many of these objects are now scattered at museums, archives and private homes.

In Malmo, first- and second- generation immigrants from the Middle East make up one-third of the population. Several hundred Jews live there.


Polish candidate fires aide over anti-Semitic Facebook post he wrote as a teen

WARSAW (JTA) — A Warsaw mayoral candidate has fired one of his campaign aides over a 2010 Facebook post advocating the murder of Jews when he was 15.

Patryk Jaki, the deputy justice minister in Poland, dismissed Michal Szpadrowski on Thursday, the Polish news site Wiadomosci reported Thursday.

Szpądrowski joked in the post about shooting Jews with an assault rifle after a friend wrote on his Facebook page that “tomorrow is the raid of the Jews on Warsaw! A Boeing 747-400 is arriving from TLV. If you want, we will go at 6.20am to the airport and welcome them with gas.”

“If it was not so early,” Szpądrowski replied, “I would greet them with a … Kalashnikov.”

In this 2010 Facebook post, Michał Szpądrowski joked about shooting Jews with a Kalashnikov. (Wiadomosci)

Following his firing, Szpądrowski tweeted that his remarks were “shameful” and he had made a donation to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. He also declared that he was a “decisive enemy” of totalitarian ideologies and deeply respected the Jewish nation, “its suffering, history and culture.”

View image on Twitter

Michał Szpądrowski@MichalSzpader
Jaki, a member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, is a right-wing populist who has said that Poland’s controversial law on Holocaust rhetoric, which bans falsely blaming the Polish state and people for “crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes” committed during World War II, provided his country with “catharsis.”

“I am not saying that we shouldn’t speak about difficult moments in the history of any country, any nation,” he told Reuters in February. “But if we are to build our international image as a state, we should base it on positive things.”


Holocaust memorials atop mass graves in Estonia torched, vandalized with swastika

(JTA) — Unidentified individuals scrawled anti-Semitic slogans and symbols on monuments for Holocaust victims in Estonia.

The incident occurred sometime last week at the Kalevi-Liiva village in the Harju County near Tallinn, the capital of the Baltic nation of Estonia, the website News-Front reported Thursday.

The monuments, erected at sites of mass killings of Jews during the Holocaust, were also damaged with a blowtorch. One monument was defaced with a swastika. Another read: “Juden,” German for Jews. A third had the words “Sieg Heil,” a Nazi greeting, written on it.

Virtually all of the 4,500 that had lived in Estonia before the Holocaust were murdered by January 1942, when it became the first country in Europe to be declared “Jew-free” by the Nazis.

Separately, in the Netherlands a 23-year-old man who on Adolf Hitler’s birthday this year drew a shape reminiscent of a cross on the main Holocaust memorial monument of the The Hague was sentenced to 20 hours of community service. The man, identified in the media as Jordi A., denied that he had targeted the monument because it was for Jews, AD reported. Prosecutors requested he be handed a month-long prison sentence for his actions in The Hague on April 20.

Jordi A. “has been convicted of a similar offense in the past,” the judges wrote in his sentence, handed down Thursday. But “there are signs suggesting psychiatric or personality disorders” in his behavior, they added.

The Federative Jewish Netherlands group protested what it described as a light sentence.

“This is a lenient punishment that invites new anti-Semitic vandalism. An embarrassment,” the group wrote on Twitter.


Romanian police nab suspect in anti-Semitic vandalism of Elie Wiesel’s home

Elie Wiesel’s childhood home in Sighet, Romania was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti on August 3, 2018. (Screenshot via

(JTA) — Romanian police arrested a 37-year-old man whom they suspect wrote anti-Semitic slogans on the childhood home of Elie Wiesel.

The man, whose name police did not release, is believed to have written in fluorescent pink graffiti the words “public toilet” and “Nazi Jew lying in hell with Hitler” as well as “Anti-Semite pedophile.”The Memorial House Elie Wiesel is in Sighet in eastern Romania.

Wiesel died in 2016 at the age of 87. A Nobel peace prize laureate for his body of work on activism on behalf of fellow Holocaust survivors and those who were killed, he was honored last year by locals in his hometown. They marched from the museum, which was built where Wiesel was born and grew up, to the train station where in 1944 he and his family boarded a train to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

The suspect was arrested last week for the vandalism, which was discovered on Aug. 4, the news site digi24 last week reported.

The arrest “comes as a relief,” said Chaim Chesler, co-founder of Limmud FSU. Chesler’s group, which organizes cultural events for Jews across the former Soviet Union and other places where many Russian-speaking Jews live, was responsible for the 2016 memorial march for Wiesel in Sighet.

The graffiti incident “caused pain and outrage all over the world but it is reassuring to see that justice is being served,” Chesler added.


Elie Wiesel’s childhood home vandalized by antisemitic graffiti

The Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Romania is covered in antisemitic graffiti. (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)

WRITER, NOBEL LAUREATE and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in 2010 (photo credit: REUTERS)

The florescent pink graffiti that was painted on the Memorial House Elie Wiesel in Sighet in eastern Romania read “public toilet” and “Nazi Jew lying in hell with Hitler” as well as “Anti-Semite pedo

Unidentified individuals spray painted offensive graffiti on the external walls of a museum for Elie Wiesel in Romania, where he was also born, in what police said was an antisemitic incident.

The florescent pink graffiti that was painted on the Memorial House Elie Wiesel in Sighet in eastern Romania read “public toilet” and “Nazi Jew lying in hell with Hitler” as well as “Anti-Semite pedophile.”

Wiesel was one of the world’s most famous Holocaust survivors before he passed away in 2016 at the age of 87. A Nobel prize laureate for literature, he was honored last year by locals in his hometown. They marched from the museum, which was built where Wiesel was born and grew up, to the train station where in 1944 he boarded with his family a train to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Police are investigating the incident, which they consider an anti-Semitic hate crime, but have no suspects in custody, the news site Sighet247 reported Saturday.

“What was done is unforgivable,” said Chaim Chesler, co-founder of Limmud FSU. Chesler’s group, which sets up cultural events for Jews across the former Soviet Union and other places where many Russian-speaking Jews live, was responsible for the 2016 memorial march for Wiesel in Sighet. “Elie is a symbol for all Holocaust survivors and that makes this incident especially painful. Everything must be done so that such cases not repeat themselves.”

In June, Maximillian Marco Katz, founding director of MCA Romania-The Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, told JTA that Romania has adequate laws for fighting antisemitism, but enforcement in lacking. He cited several recent cases, including the failure by authorities to prosecute Gheorghe Funar, a former mayor of the city of Cluj who last year said in a filmed speech that the “Romanians are victims of Jews within” who perpetrated “the greatest Holocaust in human history.”

A police officer told Katz he “did not see who was damaged” by the former mayor’s speech and that he therefore is dropping the investigation, Katz said.

Eviction of Dutch Jews from Nazi-ravaged synagogue brings back bitter memories

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Tom Furstenberg, right, and a fellow congregant carrying the Torah ark out of the Great Synagogue of Deventer, July 30, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

DEVENTER, Netherlands (JTA) — Four years ago, Tom Furstenberg proudly carried into his synagogue its first Torah scroll since the Holocaust, when local Nazis destroyed the building’s interior.

The scroll’s introduction in 2014 was an important moment for the Beth Shoshana Masorti community that Furstenberg helped establish in 2010 in this city of nearly 100,000 residents located 60 miles east of the capital Amsterdam.

After all, it was proof that Jewish life had finally returned to a place where it had been uprooted and destroyed.

“I felt that this was it, nothing could reverse our presence as part of this city,” Furstenberg, a 49-year-old teacher and chairman of Deventer’s Jewish community, told JTA on Monday.

Furstenberg had been overly optimistic.

On Monday, he and a dozen other members of their congregation of 35 had to take away the scroll and all the other ritual possessions and load them into a white van.

The building housing the Great Synagogue of Deventer was sold in January by the church that had owned it for decades. The developers, a Dutch-Turkish restaurant owner and his associate, then evicted the congregants amid a legal fight over the owners’ plan to turn the place into an eatery.

For Deventer, the eviction meant “the end of a Jewish presence in this city,” Sanne Terlouw, a founding member of Beth Shoshana and a renowned author, told JTA with tears in her eyes on the day of the move.

But for many other Dutch Jews, the demise of the Great Synagogue of Deventer signals a broader demographic shift: Jewish life and heritage are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain outside Amsterdam, where most Dutch Jews live, because of secularization and the echoing losses of the Holocaust.

“Of course it’s sad, we’re losing a piece of our history,” said Esther Voet, editor in chief of the NIW Jewish weekly in Amsterdam. “But the reality is that this small Jewish community cannot afford to stay in that huge synagogue. That’s just the way it is.”

With no synagogue of its own, Beth Shoshana will move to the nearby municipality of Raalte, where it will share space with an existing congregation. Voet says she finds this “a reasonable solution” born out of a “regrettable reality.”

But in Deventer and beyond, the evicted congregants appeared less resigned to the change than Voet.

On Monday, the congregation gathered one last time for a snack in the building they had just emptied of its possessions. Sipping black coffee and eating prune cake, they sang in passionate Hebrew “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Kol Ha’Olam Kulo” — “The People of Israel Live” and “The World is a Narrow Bridge.” Some of the congregants cried; others tried to console them.

‘This was our home for a long period,” Ehud Posthumos, 79, a retired Royal Netherlands Air Force officer, told JTA. “On winter nights, we’d gather here in the cold – we never heated the place properly to save on utilities – and although outside it turned very dark early in the afternoon, here inside we had a great source of light. And now it feels like losing a home.”

A congregant helps pack up the synagogue’s belongings, July 30, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Maurice Swirc, the former editor in chief of NIW, called the synagogue’s sale “a scandal” and found it “very painful.” Dutch authorities, he said, “were partially responsible for the fact that Deventer does not have enough Jews to maintain she synagogue. The least they could do is help preserve it.”

The affair prompted intense interest internationally. JTA’s video report of the community leaving the shul has been viewed more than 200,000 times on Facebook.

Ronny Naftaniel, a founder of The Hague Jewish Heritage group, said the synagogue’s sale is unusual “for a city such as Deventer, where authorities have a high awareness for heritage.” Deventer, where wealthy Jewish cattle dealers left an indelible mark and where a part of Naftaniel’s family lived before the Holocaust, “could have set aside this space,” he said.

Until recently, Furstenberg’s community was able to hold on to its synagogue thanks to the Christian Reformed Churches group. It bought the building in 1951 from the severely depleted Jewish community of Deventer and turned the structure into a church, complete with a massive pipe organ that the group installed.

In 2010, Furstenberg and other Jews from the area began convening at a nearby Jewish club and asked the church’s permission to re-establish a synagogue in the hall, which they began renting from the church at a subsidized rate. But the church had to sell the building this year. The highest bidder was Ayhan Sahin, the Dutch-Turkish developer, and his associate, Carlus Lenferink.

This summer, the entrepreneurs announced their plan to turn the synagogue into a restaurant. Furstenberg objected and the city declined to approve the plan.

Amid negotiations with the Jewish community, Sahin was quoted as saying: “If need be, I’ll turn it into a mosque,” according to De Stentor regional daily. He later said he would allow the Jewish community to stay, “but only if they pay full rent” – an unlikely prospect for the small congregation, which has no sources of income and could barely afford maintenance fees when it rented the shul at a subsidized price from the church.

Maarten-Jan Stuurman, a spokesman for the Deventer municipality, told De Stentor that the city tried to help the Jewish community stay, but ultimately “it is not the city’s task to buy religious properties it does not use.” The issue of rent, eh said, “is at the discretion of the owner.”

Losing the synagogue is “a failure and a major step back for the city,” Furstenberg said, his voice echoing in the tall and now empty space where his congregation would gather once every three weeks and on Jewish holidays. “Once again, the city is looking on as its synagogue is being destroyed.”

Furstenberg’s j’accuse, spoken in Dutch in the presence of local reporters, was a reference to the unusual and painful wartime history of the building. Unlike most Dutch synagogues, the one in Deventer was not confiscated in the orderly and methodical Nazi manner. Instead it was ransacked by a rabble belonging to the Dutch Nazi party, NSB, on July 25, 1941.

Under the gaze of local police officers, they smashed the furniture, hacked open the Torah ark, tore up the scroll, pulled down the chandeliers and dislodged the bimah of the building, which was built in 1892.

But that violence paled in comparison to the deportations of the congregants the next summer. Of the 590 people registered as Jews in Deventer in 1942, the Nazis murdered 401. It was a typical statistic in a country where the Nazis and local collaborators were responsible for killing at least 75 percent of Jews – the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

Dutch Jewry, which numbered 140,000 before the Holocaust, never came close to replenishing its numbers. Today, Holland has about 45,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.

The Deventer synagogue played a role in the survival of at least two Jews.

Simon van Spiegel, his brother, Bubi, and Meier de Leeuw hid in the building’s attic for a while. Bubi was caught by the Germans after they received an anonymous tip. His brother and  de Leeuw escaped. Simon’s daughter, Liesje Tesler-Van Spiegel, who lives in Israel, visited her father’s hiding place for the first time last month.

“I remember all of them,” Roelof de Vries, 86, a carpenter whose family worked as caretakers at the synagogue before the Holocaust.

“Even if this place becomes a restaurant, I’ll never forget my friend Bubi, whom they gassed along with so many others,” he said, weeping.

Referring to the genocide, Furstenberg said “This is the reason there are not enough Jews to afford this place.”

In the cool interior of the Great Synagogue – a tall building in the neo-Moorish style – he added: “This is not just a story about a dwindling faith community, like all those churches that get turned into a discotheques. This is an aftereffect of the Holocaust.”


Jewish cemetery desecrated in Lithuania, leaving bones scattered

(JTA) — A Jewish cemetery in Lithuania was desecrated and human remains were brought to the surface during digging connected to the laying of pipes.

Pictures showing freshly dug soil, garbage and bone fragments on the grounds of the cemetery of Siauliai, in northern Lithuania, began circulating Wednesday on social media amid reports of a cover-up of the evidence documented, the Skrastas news site reported Friday.

According to the article, the soil containing bone fragments was removed after being photographed by Sania Kerbel, the chairperson of the local Jewish community, possibly to conceal the evidence of the desecration. But Marijus Velička, a senior municipal representative, told Skrastas that he believes “this is not true.”

“The cemetery is a cultural heritage site and all digging is prohibited there,” Kerbel told the news site. “This is not just desecration of burial grounds, there is vandalism here.”

Police are investigating the incident.

Rabbinical authorities in Lithuania have been approached to deal with the fallout of the digging at Siauliai and bring the remains to a proper burial, the report said.

Grant Gochin of California in a Facebook post reacted passionately to the incident; his family had lived in Siauliai.

“Those bones could belong to my cousins,” he wrote Thursday. “The disrespect … This feels like a knife into the core of my being, how could someone hate this much? How could people be so callous? That is my family you see in those mounds.”


Munich rejects ‘stumbling stone’ Holocaust memorials at Jewish leader’s request

A view of some “stolpersteine” in Berlin, Aug. 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

BERLIN (JTA) — Heeding the objections of a local Jewish leader, Munich is introducing a new form of Holocaust remembrance as an answer to the ubiquitous “stumbling stones” memorials that dot sidewalks in front of sites across Europe from which Jews were deported.

The first two small plaques and markers with photos and biographical details went up on Friday at apartment buildings in the capital of Bavaria, recalling the lives and fates of Jews who once lived there.

“With this new form of commemoration, Munich is taking its own path towards an honorable and lasting remembrance,” Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Munich and Bavaria, said, according to news reports.

Knobloch has for years opposed the installation of “stumbling stone” memorials, small brass plaques generally installed on sidewalks in front of places from where Jews were deported. She considers their placement on the ground, where people tread on them or they get dirty, an insult to the memory of Holocaust victims. Knobloch herself survived World War II in hiding with a Christian family in Germany.

Initiated by the Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig, the “Stolpersteine” plaques include basic information about the individuals. His non-profit asks for about $140 to cover the cost of creating and setting the stones. According to his website, more than 50,000 “stumbling stones” have now been installed across Europe, often with descendants of Holocaust victims present. Other cities and communities in Germany welcomed the memorial stones.

Supporting Knobloch, the City Council voted three years ago to reject the project, and their stand was backed by the Bavarian Administrative Court in December 2017.

Now, the city reportedly has earmarked $175,000 for the new project.

The installation of the new memorials this week was attended by Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter.

The first is dedicated to the philologist Friedrich Crusius, who was put to death because of mental illness; the art gallery owners  Paula and Siegfried Jordan, who were shot in 1941; and to Franz and Tilly Landauer – Franz was the brother of Kurt Landauer, pre-war president of the FC-Bayern soccer club, who fled to Switzerland in 1939 and saved his life. All of his siblings were murdered by the Nazis.

Another two plaques and markers are to be installed by August 5, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, the opposition association, “Stolpersteine for Munich,” has installed a few stumbling stone memorials on private property.

An app called Munich stumbling blocks provides a virtual memorial to Holocaust victims from the city.