Category Archive: Times of Israel

The quiet absolution of pro-Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl

As the Berlin Museum of Photography prepares an installation about the life of the ‘Triumph of the Will’ propagandist, scholars worry it validates her distorted take on history

Fifteen years after the controversial filmmaker’s death, items from Helene “Leni” Riefenstahl’s estate will go on display at Berlin’s Museum of Photography. The planned exhibit, warn some critics, runs the risk of absolving Riefenstahl of responsibility for her pro-Nazi films, as well as her dubious wartime activities.

In 2003, the woman once known as “Hitler’s favorite filmmaker” died at the age of 101. Some 700 cases from Riefenstahl’s estate were donated to the museum by her secretary. Now, curators will have access to thousands of letters and film stock dating to the 1920s, as well as gowns worn by Riefenstahl, and her diving suit from a late-in-life hobby she turned into a documentary on coral reefs.

For the exhibit’s detractors, the project is “an absurd and disgusting obscenity” that will glorify the late director’s “fascist aesthetics” and advance a rehabilitation that Riefenstahl does not deserve.

Riefenstahl was the first woman to earn international attention as a filmmaker, directing the Nazi-glorifying “Triumph of the Will” and “Day of Freedom: Our Army.” Relying on her close relationship with Hitler, Riefenstahl crafted films that mesmerized the German public and audiences abroad. In “Olympia,” the racially conscious Olympics extravaganza, she pioneered several techniques.

During a tour of the United States to peddle “Olympia” in November 1938, Riefenstahl claimed reports of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany were not accurate. She was promptly blacklisted by most studio heads, although Walt Disney took a half-day meeting with her.

It did not help her cause that Riefenstahl had just removed the names of Jews from the credits of her 1932 film “The Blue Light,” which she wrote, directed and starred in as a “sympathetic” mountain witch, Junta.

Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl during the 1934 filming of ‘Triumph of the Will’ (public domain)

Following Riefenstahl’s post-war rehabilitation — she was never convicted of being a Nazi by the Allies — she made a secret deal with Transit Films and government officials to receive royalties from her Nazi-era projects. Riefenstahl felt no need for “atonement” along the lines of Hitler’s armaments chief, Albert Speer. Well into her golden years, Riefenstahl vigorously sued people who claimed she had been a Nazi.

Riefenstahl during the war

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Riefenstahl arrived on-site as a war correspondent. As the army swept eastward, she witnessed the execution of 30 civilians in the town of Konskie, as well as the murder of Jewish grave diggers. With photographs placing her at the scene of the crime, Riefenstahl later claimed she had attempted to halt the execution, and that she went to Hitler in order to express her indignation.

During the second week of World War II, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (background) reacts to the execution of civilians in Konskie, Poland (public domain)

A few weeks after Riefenstahl witnessed the execution, she filmed Hitler’s “Victory Parade” in Warsaw, in which her patron viewed his forces marching through a bombed out city.

Riefenstahl’s film work intersected with the Nazi genocide machine during two years of production on “Lowlands,” about a dancer courted by two suitors. For that project, the director personally selected more than 100 “extras” from among Roma and Sinti concentration camp inmates in Austria. After a 1942 film-shoot that used dozens of these victims, they were deported to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them were murdered.

For all her efforts, Riefenstahl was not able to release “Lowlands” until 1954. Decades later, at the age of 90, she negotiated the video release as part of “The Leni Riefenstahl Collection.” For having claimed she knew nothing of the Roma and Sinti victims’ deportation to Auschwitz, the director’s 100th birthday was marked by a Holocaust denial lawsuit against her, filed jointly by some of the child survivors used as extras on her film.

‘An absurd and disgusting obscenity’

Beginning in the 1960s, Leni Riefenstahl’s come-back period included a stint photographing the 1972 Munich Olympics, as well as giving interviews in which she distanced herself from Hitler. She always denied having been an anti-Semite or having known about the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

“No anti-Semitic word has ever crossed my lips,” Riefenstahl told filmmaker Ray Muller in 1993. “I have thrown no atomic bombs. I have never betrayed anyone. What am I guilty of?”

While the Berlin Museum of Photography has yet to announce specific plans for the Riefenstahl exhibition, a team of experts is examining the content of her archive’s 700 cases. Historians doubt the documents will offer new insight into her wartime activities: Riefenstahl would have destroyed incriminating evidence long ago.

Since 2004, the museum has housed a collection of photographs by Helmut Newton, a Jew who fled Berlin as a child in 1938. Later in his life, Newton came to admire Riefenstahl’s films, and the two became friends. Some of their letters to each other are on display at the museum alongside images taken by Newton, who was known as Germany’s “King of Kink” for posing women in sexually provocative scenes.

Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl during the Nuremberg party rally in 1935 (public domain)

According to critics of the planned Riefenstahl installation, the friendship between Riefenstahl and Newton, a Jewish photographer, does not “excuse” the glorification of her life and Nazi films at the museum. By displaying items from Riefenstahl’s estate, the museum — wrote one observer — is helping the filmmaker “dupe” the public yet again, albeit posthumously.

“Those who see anything to admire in Riefenstahl’s work, which was mired in fascistic content and sensibility, have been duped again just as she, and those who supported her, wanted,” according to Brian Winston, a journalist and film professor at Lincoln University in Britain, in a Guardian article.

“It’s an absurd and disgusting obscenity that the estate of Hitler’s favorite filmmaker is to be given a home in the foundation of a man who was forced to flee Nazi Germany because he was a Jew,” said Winston.


‘Bride of Belsen’ Holocaust survivor who treated Anne Frank dies aged 95

Gena Turgel survived the Krakow ghetto, a death march, and the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps

Gena Turgel (YouTube screen cap)

Gena Turgel, a Holocaust survivor who helped care for Anne Frank, has died at age 95.

Turgel was also known as the “Bride of Belsen” for wearing a dress made from a British army parachute on the day of her marriage to a soldier who took part in the liberation of Nazi death camps.

“Gena dedicated her life to sharing her testimony to hundreds of thousands in schools across the country,” Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, told the Guardian. “Her story was difficult to hear and difficult for her to tell, but no one who heard her speak will ever forget. A shining light has gone out today and will never be replaced.”

Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, said Turgel was “one of the most remarkable Holocaust survivors I had the privilege to know,” according to the Guardian. “She was a blessing and inspiration to our community. Her work to educate generations about the horrors of the Holocaust was as powerful as it was tireless. Throughout her life, she lit countless candles in the human heart and helped bring much light to the world.”

Turgel, who was 16 when the Nazis occupied her home country of Poland in September 1939, survived many horrors during the Holocaust, including living in the Krakow ghetto, walking a death march, and internment in the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen death camps. Two of her siblings were shot dead by the Nazis, and two more were never heard from again after Turgel lost contact with them during the war.

The Bergen-Belsen DP camp as it looked in the late 1940s. (photo credit: courtesy of Jean Bloch Rosensaft)

After arriving at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, Turgel began working in the site’s hospital.

“When I arrived in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, I saw heaps of bodies lying around. Not just one or two but mountains as high as a tree in the garden,” she told the Sun in 2015. “You could not distinguish if they were men or women – bones, skeletons, children’s bodies. You can’t possibly imagine the state of the place, it was horrendous.”

Among other patients, Turgel also treated Anne Frank, who was dying of typhus. “She was delirious, terrible, burning up. I gave her cold water to wash her down,” Turgel said, according to the Guardian. “We did not know she was special, but she was a lovely girl. I can still see her lying there with her face, which was so red as she had a breakout. And then she died.”

Anne Frank, aged 12, at her school desk in Amsterdam, 1941. (Courtesy, Beyond the Story)

When the British army liberated Bergen–Belsen on April 15, 1945, Turgel met soldier Norman Turgel, and the two married half a year later, with the British press dubbing Gena the “Bride of Belsen.” Turgel’s wedding dress, which was made out of an army parachute, was later put on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

A British social worker treats survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp soon after liberation (Imperial War Museum)

Turgel’s remarkable memoir, titled “I Light a Candle,” was published in 1987.


German rappers criticized for anti-Semitic lyrics visit Auschwitz

After Echo Awards cancelled for good following uproar at winners’ lyrical call for another Holocaust, Kollegah and Farid Bang place wreath at death camp’s memorial in Block 11

Picture taken on April 12, 2018 in Berlin shows German rappers Kollegah (L) and Farid Bang posing with their Echo trophies they were given in the 2018 Hip-Hop/Urban category. (AFP PHOTO / dpa / Jens Kalaene0

Two German rappers who created an uproar with their anti-Semitic lyrics visited the Auschwitz memorial.

Kollegah and Farid Bang made a private visit Thursday to the former concentration camp in Poland on an invitation from the International Auschwitz Committee.

You’ve probably never heard of the world’s oldest Holocaust museum

Founded in 1933, London’s Wiener Library actively collected material in real time throughout WWII, later playing a key role in the Nuremberg, Eichmann and Irving trials

Established in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, a German Jew decorated with the Iron Cross in World War I, the Wiener Library in London is the world’s oldest Holocaust museum. (Courtesy)

LONDON — It is a collection as extensive as its contents are horrifying. Step behind the imposing Georgian façade which houses the Wiener Library in central London’s picturesque, tree-lined Russell Square, and one enters the world’s oldest Holocaust museum.

Eighty-five years ago this year, Alfred Wiener, a German Jew decorated with the Iron Cross in World War I, fled his homeland and established the Jewish Central Information Office in Amsterdam. Its purpose was to alert the world of the dangers posed by Germany’s new rulers.

Wiener’s decision may have been prompted by the Nazis’ recent accession to power. But he had been aware, and trying to warn his fellow countrymen of, the growing menace posed by the German far right for almost the entire period of the Weimar republic.

Indeed, soon after completing his military service in 1918, Wiener published a pamphlet, “Before Pogroms?”, which presciently argued that, if left unchecked, right-wing anti-Semitism would lead to “bestial murders and violence” and the “blood of citizens running on the pavements.”

For more than a decade, Wiener, who worked for a Jewish civil rights group, regularly repeated his warning that anti-Semitism would destroy not just the Jews in Germany, but Germany itself. To inform and document his work, Wiener collected pamphlets, books, leaflets, newspapers and posters, charting the Nazis’ rise and their hatred of Jews.

It is the fact that the library is so deeply rooted in its history and subject matter which makes it so unique.

“Alfred Wiener was able to collect the kind of things that, if you were starting a museum today, you probably wouldn’t be able to find,” believes the library’s director, Ben Barkow.

In the late summer of 1939 Wiener departed Amsterdam for Britain, where on the ill-fated date of September 1, 1939, he reopened the Jewish Central Information Office in London’s Marylebone, as Germany invaded Poland.

Scrambling to better inform themselves about the leaders, military commanders and institutions of the country with which Britain was now at war, the BBC and government departments such as the Ministry of Information paid Wiener to access the resources of what they began to informally call “the library.”

A fortnightly publication — The Nazis At War — was produced. It constituted what Barkow describes in “Alfred Wiener and the Making of the Holocaust Library” as “a fascinating commentary on the political developments of the war … [providing] the British government and the Wiener Library’s other clients with source materials for anti-Nazi propaganda.”

Today, the library has grown to house some 80,000 volumes, numerous periodicals, photographs and AV materials, and a 2,000-strong archival collection; each of those 2,000 items, moreover, may range from a slim folder to 100 boxes of material.

Among them are oral and written histories by survivors — many of them recorded by the library’s staff and volunteers in the early post-war years — together with their papers and photographs.

While the library’s focus remains primarily on the Holocaust, its causes and consequences, over the last decade it has also began to expand its work to collect materials on the wider question of genocide and to examine the relationship between it and the Jewish Shoah.

Examples of the library’s grim exhibits abound. In a brightly colored board game, players compete to arrest Jews and make a town judenrein (free of Jews). Manufactured commercially in the mid-1930s and targeted at families, the SS objected to the game on the basis that it trivialized the serious business of freeing Germany of the Jews’ pernicious grip. No such objections are, however, recorded to a book which allows children to cut out and color uniforms worn by members of the Hitler Youth.

Some of the items leave tantalizingly unanswered questions. An English-language copy of “Mein Kampf” published in 1939 has a picture pasted into it of a relaxed-looking Hitler. The Fuhrer’s signature lies below the snapshot, together with an all-too-brief note of explanation by the book’s owner, a woman identified only as Karen, who is also visible in the picture: “Our visit to Berchtesgarden when AH came into the village, shook hands with tourists, signed standing up in pencil just before our evacuation.”

Others — such as the library’s copies of “The Volunteer,” an SS-veterans monthly magazine which began publication in 1956 and only recently ceased to appear — leave a peculiar chill. Its pages may be glossy and appear contemporary, but they reek of a putrid nostalgia, containing advertisements placed by subscribers looking to reunite with, or honor the passing, of old comrades.

A new chapter

A move from a cramped space on Devonshire Street — its second home in London — to its present premises in 2011 has given the library a new lease of life. Between 8,000 to 10,000 people now visit each year, including students, academics and people in the arts — film makers, authors, playwrights and people staging productions who are looking for visual references. Visitors, who need no appointment to use the library’s facilities, can work in the light-filled reading room.

A large ground-level space is used to host talks and exhibitions, many of which then travel around the country, often visiting schools and campuses.

No topic is too big, small or controversial to tackle. Earlier this year, the uncomfortable (and for many Britons unknown) story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands, and the consequent persecution and murder of Jews on British soil, was examined.

It followed previous exhibitions on Britain’s approach to the Jewish refugee crisis in the 1930s and 1940s and the country’s responses to the Holocaust, which touched on difficult questions such as the extent of anti-Semitism within British society, information about the Holocaust in the press, and the stance of the British government to the unfolding violence against Jews in Europe.

The library is also popular with family historians and those wishing to explore their own relationship to the Holocaust. Since 2014, the library has housed Britain’s copy of the Red Cross’ International Tracing Service. Every year, several hundred people — the occasional survivor, survivors’ families and relatives of refugees — now use the huge resource.

Barkow, who has worked at the library for 30 years, believes that “interest and curiosity” is stronger among the grandchildren of survivors and refugees than their children. He has also detected what he believes to be a less welcome trend in the manner in which this history is working its way through the generations.

“In my early days, when there were plenty of survivors and refugees about, they always spoke in terms of a willingness to forgive these events but never forget them,” he says. “Now that they’ve just about all gone, the younger people — their grandchildren — are often much more uncompromising and angry about these events and you hear a language of wanting revenge that was almost inconceivable in their grandparents.”

First-hand accounts of horrors

Wiener himself might not have appreciated this shift. He knew first hand the horrors that had befallen European Jews. While he spent much of the war in the United States collecting materials for the JCIO, his family were trapped in Amsterdam.

His daughters survived Bergen-Belsen but his wife, Margarethe, died of exhaustion and malnutrition hours after being liberated. Nonetheless, during the 1950s he traveled frequently to Germany, reaching out in particular to Christians and young people. The latter, he told the library’s bulletin in 1958, “seem willing to learn the lesson of the past, and they have decided, once and for all, to wash their hands of the terror of totalitarian reaction.”

During this period, and for much of the next three decades, the library’s very survival seemed at stake. After Germany’s defeat, funding began to dry up and the library led a hand-to-mouth existence. Complex, protracted proposals to incorporate it into the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Yad Vashem were explored and abandoned.

Yad Vashem, ‘a hand and a name,’ was established in 1953 to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and recognize non-Jews who helped Jews survive the war. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Long after Wiener’s death in 1964, a deal was struck with Tel Aviv University. In 1980, a swath of the collection was shipped there, but, at the 11th hour, money was raised in Germany and the US to microfilm what was being sent to Israel.

The existence, survival and struggles of the library were a testament to, and reflection of, Wiener’s personality. As Barkow describes in his book, its founder was both a charismatic “natural diplomat” — good at persuading people and winning them over to his project — and a secretive man with an authoritarian streak.

But what is undeniable is the critical role played by the library in adding to, and helping to shape, early post-war thinking about, and studies of, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

Gerald Reitlinger’s classic 1953 study of the Holocaust, “The Final Solution,” was, for instance, mainly researched at the library. It also supported Lionel Kochan’s 1957 book, “Pogrom: November 10 1938,” the first detailed analysis of Kristallnacht.

In later years, the library’s reputation was such that it was able to attract scholars of the caliber of Robert Wistrich, and directors Walter Laqueur and David Cesarani, to work there.

Crucially, the library also began to assemble and publish eyewitness accounts of the Nazis’ war on the Jews almost as soon as Hitler was dead.

From the mid-1950s, this work became more systematic and was regarded by the library as “a safeguard against any future attempts to falsify the events of those years.” It was, argues Barkow, “a remarkable instance of the foresight of the library. In the 1950s the phenomenon of so-called revisionism or Holocaust denial was little known, yet from the 1960s on it became an important issue.”

Making the history it records

But the library has not just related and recorded history, it has also helped to make it.

It provided documentation to the prosecutors at Nuremberg that was available nowhere else.

“The help [the library] has given has been invaluable in the preparation of charges against the leaders of Nazi Germany,” suggested the Belgian commissioner of the UN War Crimes Commission after the conclusion of the trials. A large proportion of the materials generated at Nuremberg were then deposited at the library.

Nearly 15 years later, it performed the same function at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. As well as providing background materials to the prosecutors in Jerusalem, the head of Israeli police, Chief Superintendent Abraham Selinger, visited the library shortly after Eichmann’s capture. The library’s assistant director, Caesar Aronsfeld, became its point man for the trial, helping Selinger gather the evidence to link the Nazi war criminal to specific crimes.

At the turn of the century, the library figured in another courtroom case, this time one played out in London, when the Holocaust-denying historian David Irving sued American author Deborah Lipstadt for claiming that Irving had deliberately distorted evidence. The library was the main source used by the researchers who authored Lipstadt’s expert report — an 800-page analysis of Irving’s writing and speeches which helped demolish his case.

Irving’s defeat – the judge’s excoriating verdict branded him an “active Holocaust denier … anti-Semitic and racist” – appeared to strike a deadly blow to those who seek to question the truth of the Shoah. Sadly, this provided a false dawn.

In its own modest way, the Wiener Library helps to continue the fight.

“Above all,” argues Barkow, “we hold this material. Anybody can come in and look at this and make their own mind up. The evidence is here. If other people are saying: ‘This didn’t happen’ or ‘It wasn’t nearly that bad,’ you can come here and you can check it out for yourself and you can learn the truth.

“We have a simple belief in the power of the truth,” he says.


Who killed a Polish Holocaust hero? His family may be close to finding out

Long-forgotten testimony by the victim’s sister — the family’s sole survivor — may help solve the decades-old mystery behind the murder of Sobibor escapee Josef Kopf

Amit Hirsch, right, recites the mourner’s prayer at what used to be the Jewish cemetery in Turobin, Poland, June 2017. (Courtesy of Lea Hirsch)

JTA — Josef Kopf survived Sobibor by killing a guard and staging the first successful escape from that death camp in Poland, where the Nazis murdered 250,000 Jews.

But Kopf, whose unlikely escape in 1943 preceded by several months a full-scale uprising at Sobibor, did not live to see Nazi Germany’s defeat.

After the liberation in 1944, he returned to his hometown of Turobin to reclaim some possessions — and was never seen or heard from again.

“We always assumed Josef was killed by a local, but we never knew for sure. We never even knew where he was buried,” said Lea Hirsch, Kopf’s niece from Israel.

Her mother, Genia, and Josef Kopf were the only ones from their family of eight children who survived the Nazi death machine.

Last year, though, the 75-year-old mystery was partially solved. A long-forgotten testimony led Hirsch and other relatives to Kopf’s presumed burial place, launching them into a murder investigation whose specifics lie at the heart of the debate in Poland about local complicity and resistance during the Holocaust.

The testimony that triggered the investigation was on an old recording of Genia Kopf, who passed away in 2011. She hardly ever spoke about the Holocaust to her children, Lea Hirsch said. But in the recording, which the family only recently discovered, Genia recounted in detail the last time she saw her brother alive and the story of her own rescue by her non-Jewish neighbor.

According to Genia’s testimony, Josef Kopf found her at the home of her rescuer, Antek Teklak, just days after the Red Army liberated Turobin and eastern Poland. But the siblings’ reunion was short lived, she said. Josef Kopf told Genia and Teklak that he would return to Turobin to “work out” some business that he had had before the war with a friend, whom he did not name.

Teklak warned Josef Kopf not to go, saying he would not make it out of his hometown alive. Trusting Teklak, Genia Kopf begged her brother to stay. But Josef Kopf “just laughed and said he’d be back the next day,” his sister said in the recording of their last meeting.

This information last year led Lea Hirsch and her son, Amit, to Poland with a dual mission: Locate the Teklak family to honor his bravery and find Josef Kopf’s grave and killer.

“Something in me just woke up, an unstoppable drive to find out what happened,” said Lea Hirsch, a 65-year-old marketing and sales professional and mother of three children from the Haifa area.

In Poland, she and other relatives hired an interpreter and a cameraman. Within a couple of days, witnesses told Hirsch that a former partner of Kopf had killed him, and that a friend of Kopf buried his body in a wheat field in the town of Żolkiewka, six miles north of Turobin.

The witnesses provided partial information, claiming not to know who killed Kopf. But they led the family to the field where they say Kopf was buried. The family is raising funds for an exhumation with the intention of bringing Josef Kopf’s remains to Israel for burial. They will be returning for further interviews in July with the hope of finding out who killed him.

“We don’t have a lot of time because the witnesses are old, but it’s a gradual process,” Lea Hirsch said of her talks with Polish villagers in the area. “People have to open up; if we rush it they’ll clam up. A bottle of vodka here, a conversation there — you have to pave their path to the truth.”

For Hirsch, uncovering the identity of her uncle’s killer is secondary in significance to finding the place where he is said to have been buried

Reconnecting with the descendants of her mother’s rescuers also was important to Lea Hirsch and her family, she said. Risking a summary execution of his entire family, Teklak hid Genia for two years in what she described in the recording as “a hole in the ground.” Teklak took her in after she escaped the ghetto where the rest of her family was kept before they were murdered.

Teklak’s son, Totko, and his family met Hirsch, her son and other relatives in Turobin in an encounter last year that Hirsch said was “extremely emotional.”

Her mother’s rescue and uncle’s murder left Hirsch with “mixed feelings” about the polarizing debate gripping Polish society in recent months about the behavior of the Polish people during the Holocaust. Thousands of Jews died at the hands of non-Jewish Poles; thousands more were rescued by them.

In January, Poland’s parliament passed a law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The measure triggered a diplomatic crisiswith Israel amid criticism by the Jewish state and many Jewish organizations that it risked silencing public debate and research about the Holocaust. And the debate also unleashed a wave of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“I have an undying appreciation for the people who saved my mother,” Hirsch said. “I was shocked to stand on the ground under which a non-Jewish hero kept her alive for years.”

But Hirsch also has “tremendous anger” over the murder of her uncle, who “survived the hell of Sobibor only to be killed and dumped at an unmarked grave because he was just a Jew.” Like many descendants of Holocaust survivors, Hirsch said she grew up in a very small family.

“I could have had an uncle,” she said.

Amit Hirsch, Lea’s son, said his family history reflects “the complexity of the historical record on the Holocaust in Poland.” Poland has 6,706 Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who were recognized by Israel as having risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. And while this is the highest number of righteous in any nation, “there was also betrayal and deadly pogroms and anti-Semites,” Amit Hirsch said.

He said the law on rhetoric about the Holocaust in Poland is designed to “manipulate history so that only the rescue stories are heard.”

Rescue stories “indeed need to be heard,” Amit Hirsch said, “but alongside the terrible things that happened.”


British blogger who sang about Holocaust denial convicted

Alison Chabloz, 54, is found guilty of writing, performing and disseminating three songs, including one about Anne Frank and another claiming the genocide was ‘a bunch of lies’

Blogger Alison Chabloz, accused of posting anti-Semitic songs on her site, arrives at Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London on January 10, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

A British blogger who posted songs on YouTube denying the Holocaust was convicted in London of sending “offensive, indecent or menacing messages.”

On Friday, a Westminster Magistrates’ Court judge found Alison Chabloz, 54, guilty of writing, performing and disseminating three songs about Nazi persecution. One was about the young diarist Anne Frank.

Chabloz, who claimed in one of her songs that the Holocaust was “just a bunch of lies,” will be sentenced next month.

During one session of her trial in January, Chabloz sang along in the courtroom as the judge reviewed the videos of her singing.

The Campaign Against anti-Semitism watchdog initially brought a private prosecution against Chabloz before the Crown Prosecution Service took over.

“This verdict sends a strong message that in Britain, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories will not be tolerated,” said Gideon Falter, the group’s chairman.


Jewish group questions sainthood for WWII-era cardinal

American Jewish Committee tells Vatican that August Hlond was ‘extremely’ hostile to Jews and failed to condemn 1946 pogrom

In this May 25, 2006 photo, Pope Benedict XVI visits the tomb of Polish Cardinal August Hlond in Warsaw’s St. John Cathedral. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

A leading Jewish organization has criticized the Vatican’s decision to move World War II-era cardinal August Hlond along the path to possible sainthood, saying the Polish primate was “extremely” hostile to Jews and failed to condemn a 1946 pogrom.

In a letter to top Vatican officials released Wednesday, the American Jewish Committee said it was “profoundly” concerned that Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing Hlond’s “heroic virtues,” the first main step in the sainthood process.

AJC’s director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, cited a 1936 pastoral letter Hlond wrote in which he urged Poles to stay away from the “harmful moral influence of Jews” and to boycott Jewish media.

Hlond refused to condemn the 1946 Kielce pogrom, which left 42 Jews dead and at least 40 wounded.

“It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion,” Hlond wrote in the letter, which frequently has been cited as evidence of the Catholic Church’s institutional anti-Semitism prior to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

“Cardinal Hlond held a press conference but he did not condemn the pogrom nor urge Poles to stop murdering Jews,” wrote Rosen. “Rather, he pointed out that the Jews were all communists or supporters of communism and that the pogrom was their own fault.”

Hlond, who was highest ranking church official in Poland during 1926-48, remains highly respected in the overwhelmingly Catholic country for having kept the faith strong and protected the church’s independence during the German Nazi occupation and the first years of post-war communism.

His initiatives safeguarded Poland’s Church from the kind of persecution and subjugation that took place in nearby nations.

While living in exile during World War II, Hlond used his influence and personal contacts to speak to the world about Poland’s plight under Nazi occupation. When the Germans arrested him, he refused an offer to form a collaborative government.

His devotion to Catholic faith laid the foundations for the emergence of such key figures in Poland’s church as Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, now a saint.

Francis’s decree that Hlond lived a life of heroic virtue came after investigators compiled a full study of his life, writings and works to determine their theological soundness. The Vatican must still confirm a miracle attributed to his intercession for him to be beatified, and a second one for him to be made a saint.


Germany loses Holocaust reminder as survivors dwindle

As far-right parties make gains, educators and historians say the country needs to urgently find new ways of remembering the past

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) — Renowned for its relentless confrontation of its Nazi past, Germany’s culture of remembrance faces new 21st-Century challenges as survivors of World War II and the Holocaust disappear and far-right politics reemerges.

“This is my birth certificate, with the Nazi swastika on the bottom,” white-haired Ralph Dannheisser told a class of rapt teenagers, passing the document around the packed library at Frankfurt’s Liebig secondary school.

Born in 1938, less than two years before his parents fled Europe for the United States, Dannheisser grew up speaking German and praying for the survival of relatives left behind as World War II and the Holocaust savaged the Old Continent.

The students pressed 80-year-old Dannheisser with questions for more than an hour, asking how the loss of his grandparents in the camps at Sobibor and Auschwitz-Birkenau affected his childhood, or how American children reacted to German-Jewish refugees.

A memorial at the site of the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. (Public domain)

“My mother never got over the murder of her parents and her brother… I also felt a real loss because I grew up without an Oma or Opa (granddad or grandma) and grew up knowing no uncles, aunts or cousins,” Dannheisser recounted.

“It was really detailed, we didn’t learn things this way in class,” 15-year-old Ronan Chollet-Richard said afterwards.

“You could see clearly in his eyes how it felt. It’s unimaginable for me as a pupil, as a child.”

Dannheisser, smiling from behind his glasses and neat beard, declares himself “impressed” by the students’ engagement.

“They had intelligent questions and gave me a lot of hope,” he said.

“I think it’s important to tell our stories and to keep the memory alive in newer generations while we’re still around,” he added.

The dwindling number of survivors makes the question of how to pass knowledge of Germany’s totalitarian past on to future generations more acute now than it has been in decades.

“As we draw further and further away from the Holocaust and World War II, it’s all the more urgent to find new ways of communicating this,” said Stephan Peters, who has taught history at the Liebig school since 1992.

‘180-degree turn’

Germany broke free of the post-war decades of silence and repressed memories to probe the depths of its Nazi past in the late 20th Century, a process imitated in places like South Africa.

But last year the far-right nationalist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged into parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote, turbocharged by the arrival of more than one million mostly Muslim refugees since 2015.

Workers block the street in front of Bjoern Hoecke, front left, German state of Thuringia’s chairman of the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party, April 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Ahead of the election, regional AfD leader Bjoern Hoecke called for a “180-degree turn” in the country’s “daft policy of coming to terms with the past.”

And party leader Alexander Gauland has said “we have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”

AfD’s contempt for the culture of remembrance stems not from hatred of Jews so much as from its rejection of many lessons post-war Germany drew from its history.

The 1949 Basic Law, later adopted as united Germany’s constitution, is anchored around a deep concern for individual rights, with clear limits to state, police and military powers and a commitment to host refugees.

Away from the far-right, Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community fears growing numbers of anti-Semitic crimes by Muslim perpetrators, from the burning of Israeli flags at protests to street violence or bullying in schools.

“I would advise individual people against openly wearing a kippah (traditional Jewish skullcap) in big German cities,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in April after a spate of such incidents.

No ‘inoculation’ for extremism

As Holocaust survivors gradually vanish, the focus of remembrance culture is turning towards the physical evidence of Nazi crimes at former camps and other scenes of atrocities.

Some politicians have even called for obligatory visits to Holocaust memorials.

The infamous German inscription that reads ‘Work Makes Free’ at the main gate of the Auschwitz I extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on November 15, 2014. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

Teacher Peters cautions that the encounters can be “psychologically very, very difficult to bear for some pupils, to withstand the pressure they feel at this place.”

What’s more, many sites are “at the limits of our capacity,” says Stephanie Billib, a spokeswoman for the Holocaust memorial at Bergen-Belsen.

“We have more school groups than we can manage, we are always having to turn down requests.”

While memorials hope for more state funding, the disappearance of those who lived through the Holocaust as adults means “important advocates for the memorials will soon no longer be there,” Billib laments.

In any case, she says visits are not so effective that “you can give people some kind of inoculation, that all the young people will be good democrats” afterwards.

That hasn’t stopped people trying — most notoriously in the case of German rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah.

After the duo’s top-selling album, which features anti-Semitic — or at least extremely tasteless — lines about Auschwitz inmates, won Germany’s biggest music award, the Echo, the resulting scandal lead to the prize being scrapped earlier this year.

Now the apparently contrite pair are set to visit the former Nazi German camp in Poland.

“They’ll be paying homage to the victims and the survivors,” said Christoph Heubner, vice-president of the International Auschwitz Committee.