Category Archive: Together

Ghost writer revisits her own amazing Holocaust survival story in Amsterdam

By Cnaan Liphshiz

During World War II, Miriam Dubi-Gazan registered falsely as the daughter of a Nazi collaborator without his knowledge. (Courtesy of Dubi-Gazan)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — As a seasoned ghost writer who specializes in biographies, Miriam Dubi-Gazan says there is no such thing as a boring life story.

Her attention to detail, creativity and editing skills yield satisfying results even for clients whose resumes are not exactly the stuff of spy novels (think retired bankers, plastics manufacturers, midlevel civil servants and family doctors), she says.

But Dubi-Gazan’s own astonishing life story needs none of the tricks of her trade.

Born in 1945 to Jewish parents in a cellar in Amsterdam, where they were hiding from the Nazis, Dubi-Gazan was registered falsely as the daughter of a Nazi collaborator without his knowledge. It was part of a daring deceit by the Nazi’s own brother — a resistance fighter — to keep her alive.

In December, during her first return to her place of birth, Dubi-Gazan, who has lived in Israel since 1962, told JTA that her rescue story demonstrates both Dutch society’s shame and its glory.

At least 75 percent of the country’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust — the highest death rate in occupied Western Europe. Yet alongside widespread collaboration there were significant acts of disobedience on a scale unmatched by any other country in Western Europe.

The ideological divide between the two men at the center of her own survival story — Simon Dekker, the Nazi collaborator, and his freedom fighter brother, Ewert — is a microcosm of  Dutch society during the occupation.

“It shows you how sharply divided Dutch society was,” Dubi-Gazan, 73, said of the family of the resistance fighters who saved her. “Within the same household you had people working for the Nazis and people who were risking their lives to stop them.”

Miriam Dubi-Gazan, right in first row, poses with classmates at the Rosj Pina Jewish elementary school in Amsterdam, June 25, 1953. (Courtesy of Dubi-Gazan)

In 1941, the Netherlands saw the first mass protests anywhere in Europe over the persecution of Jews.

Following the roundup of 457 Jews by Nazis, hundreds of thousands of laborers answered the resistance call for a general strike that February. Dutch industry ground to a halt for three days. The Germans cracked down on the strikers, killing nine of them and imprisoning hundreds, until the strike was broken by brute force.

Underground, the resistance was busy hiding thousands and helping thousands more to safety.

The Netherlands has 5,669 Righteous Among the Nations — non-Jews recognized and honored by Israel for having risked their lives to save Jews. It’s by far the highest figure in Western Europe and the second highest worldwide, second only to Poland’s 6,863 rescuers.

Yet Dutch police and many civilians unreservedly enlisted to the Nazi project of murdering the Jews of the Netherlands and Europe.

Soon after the Nazis invaded in 1940, men from the group known as the Henneicke Column began hunting Jews for pay. Led by a cabby named Wim Henneicke, some 80 bounty hunters were paid by authorities 5 guldens for every Jew they brought in — the equivalent of a week’s pay for unskilled laborers. The bounty was later raised to 7.5 and then to 40 gulden. This group alone caught thousands of victims.

Anne Frank, the teenager whose diary became one of the world’s best-known testimonials from the Holocaust, may have been betrayed with her family.

Visitors wait to enter the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, March 29, 2008. (Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons)

In that atmosphere, it was imperative that a baby born at a resistance safe house, like Miriam Dubi-Gazan, have papers. Anyone caught with an undocumented baby risked a Gestapo interrogation that was liable not only to end with the dispatch to Auschwitz of the baby and her parents, but to the exposure of the resistance cell that hid them, she explained.

This made Simon Dekker, the Nazi brother of a resistance fighter, the perfect person to register as the Jewish baby’s father. He would be above suspicion, Dubi-Gazan said.

Last year, Dubi-Gazan returned to the cellar where she was born on Jan Luijken Street, around the corner from the Van Gogh Museum, with a film crew from the Israel Broadcasting Corp. Before going there, she met with Henk and Wisje Dekker, Simon and Ewart’s nonagenarian siblings.

Ewert, her rescuer, died a few years ago, she learned. As did Simon, a former high school teacher who immediately after World War II left the Netherlands amid the authorities’ sweep to catch and punish Nazi collaborators.

In the half-light of an overcast morning, Dubi-Gazan stood in the cellar where her mother gave birth to her in anguished silence, lacking any medical assistance and attended by Miriam’s older brother, who then was 18 months old.

Two months before Miriam was born, her mother narrowly escaped a raid after a pro-Nazi milkman reported the family to the police, she said. As the Nazis banged on the front door, Miriam’s highly pregnant mother jumped with her son over a fence to disappear in the maze of gardens that was the building’s interior yard.

Miriam Dubi-Gazan, left, with her brother in 1945. (Courtesy of Dubi-Gazan)

“I can’t believe my mother lived through all of that,” Dubi-Gazan said in the room, visibly moved. But after a few minutes she was ready to leave.

“I want to get out of here. Let’s go, this is enough now,” she said as she climbed up from the cellar.

After the Holocaust, her traumatized mother had deep emotional issues, Dubi-Gazan said.

“We couldn’t ride on the train growing up — because the trains all went to Auschwitz,” she told JTA.

Living with the trauma of the Holocaust, Dubi-Gazan said she knew she wanted to leave for Israel when she was 5 years old. She attended the Rosj Pina Jewish school in Amsterdam in one of the first classes opened after the Holocaust.

Her class had only seven students — all of them child survivors of the 140,000-member Jewish community that lived in the Netherlands before the war.

Today’s Dutch Jewish community, estimated at 45,000, is heavily concentrated in Amsterdam, where it has several cultural centers and synagogues, as well as an elementary and secondary school. But it has failed to replenish its numbers. Outside Amsterdam, once-prominent synagogues dot the Netherlands, only several of them still functioning as such.

In the southern city of Middelburg, non-Jewish volunteers show the local synagogue to visitors once a week. Up north in Groningen, the synagogue is a museum with a souvenir shop selling wine and kosher products from Israel. And in Deventer in the east, a 207-year-old synagogue is being turned into a restaurant following its sale to a Dutch-Turkish entrepreneur.

“I grew up with a lot of anger toward the Dutch,” said Dubi-Gazan, who has two daughters. “I wasn’t raised to think of this place as home.”

But with time, she said, her attitude softened. She recently honored the Dekker family (“the good side, that is,” she said) by planting a tree in their honor in Israel.

“It’s true that many collaborated. But many non-Jews also suffered, some for helping Jews,” she said. “They went to concentration and labor camps and their children, I’ve come to discover, were scarred by that experience as deeply as I was.”


Krakow’s Jewish community copes with Poland’s controversial Holocaust law

© Alcyone Wemaëre, France 24

Kamilla, who calls herself a Judeophile, studied Judaism and named her daughter Hannah, “like Hannah Arendt”. Why? “I have no idea. I love the Jewish religion,” she says. She is part of the generation that, as schoolchildren visiting Auschwitz, was told the victims were Poles and Russians, but not Jews.

Very critical of a government that “every week finds a new Polish hero” and “opens the floodgates of xenophobia”, Kamilla believes one must be vigilant. She cites Marek Edelman, one of the instigators of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who said, “Don’t forget that evil can grow bigger.”

This article has been translated from the original in French.


Study says Polish neighbors betrayed many more Jews than previously thought

Polish Jews shown in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(JTA) — According to new research done in Poland, two thirds of the local Jews who hid there from the Nazis did not survive the war, mostly because of the actions of their non-Jewish neighbors.

The figure comes from a two-volume work of 1,600 pages that historians from the Warsaw-based Center for Research on Holocaust of Jews have compiled over the past five years. It covers nine out of Poland’s 13 regions, the Tok FM radio station reported Sunday.

Arriving amid a polarizing debate in Poland over a law that limits rhetoric on Polish complicity in the Holocaust, the study suggests Poles are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths by Jews in the Holocaust — a figure that is significantly higher than previous estimates.

The findings of the research were published earlier this year in a Polish-language book titled “The Fate of the Jews in Selected Regions of Occupied Poland.” They pertain to the fate of more than one million Jews who went underground to avoid being killed in Operation Reinhard — Nazi Germany’s campaign of annihilation of 3.3 million Jews in occupied Poland.

According to Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, no more than 2,500 Jews died at the hands of Poles during the Holocaust or immediately after it. Efraim Zuroff, Eastern Europe director for the Simon Wiesenthal has disputed Schudrich’s estimate: He believes the correct figure is “many thousands” of people, including in at least 15 towns and cities in eastern Poland, where non-Jews butchered their Jewish neighbors.

But if the new study in Poland is correct, then those estimates are just a fraction of a tally of well over half a million Jewish Holocaust victims who died as a result of the actions of non-Jewish Poles.

The issue of Polish complicity in the Holocaust is highly controversial in Poland, where the Nazis killed three million non-Jews in addition to about four million Jews. In January, the right-wing government passed a law criminalizing blaming Poland for Nazi crimes. Protests by Israel, the United States and Jewish groups over this law prompted what observers say is a wave of anti-Semitic hatred with unprecedented intensity since the fall of communism in Poland.

The government is also leading a campaign that celebrates the actions of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum has recognized more than 6,000 Poles for such actions – the highest number of any nation.

Especially dangerous for Jews in hiding were small Polish towns, according to historians Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, two of the nine researchers who conducted the study. They called them “death traps,” TOK FM reported.

Grabowski is professor of history at the University of Ottawa in Canada and a dean among Holocaust historians, especially on the actions of bystanders. His 2014 book, “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland,” was the Yad Vashem International Book Prize winner for the same year. He also served as a fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The latest research entailed identifying, interviewing or reviewing interviews with as many survivors as possible to ascertain the fate of other Jews in hiding who did not survive, the report said. It also features newly discovered archives from remote areas of Poland from the Nazi occupation days and thereafter.

In one region, Miechów, more than 10 percent of the Jews in hiding were murdered directly by partisans who were members of the Polish underground, according to the study.


How Ewa Kurek, the Favorite Historian of the Polish Far Right, Promotes Her Distorted Account of the Holocaust

In public events across America, including one attended by a U.S. Congressman, the formerly respected scholar accused rich Jews of plotting with the Nazis to kill their poor brethren and argued that the ghettos were voluntary

On April 10, Poland’s consulate in New York announced the cancellation of the Polish-Jewish Dialogue’s annual awards dinner, where the historian Ewa Kurek was scheduled to receive an honor named after Jan Karski, an army officer who risked his life to tell the world about the horrors of Auschwitz and who later became one of Poland’s leading diplomats and elder statesmen. Right-wing non-Jewish participants in the group, which has around 60 members, had nominated Kurek for the award. The Dialogue’s Jews were led to believe that Kurek was a mainstream historian lauded for her extensive use of Jewish sources, and were apparently unfamiliar with her scholarly work and unaware of her actual beliefs.

Kurek has argued that the Jews lie about Polish conduct during WWII in order to smear Poland and hide their own people’s duplicity. She’s alleged that Jews forged a separate peace with the Nazis during the occupation of Poland and had happily confined themselves to ghettos for generations before the Germans showed up. She’s accused Poland’s urbanized and assimilated Jews of being Nazi collaborators during the Holocaust, and drawn pointed and creepily essentialist contrasts between the Jewish and Polish national characters. The award for Kurek was a briefly successful power play among hardline nationalist diasporans in the Dialogue. But Kurek turned out to be too much of an extremist for the Consulate, which was hosting the Karski dinner on its premises but nixed the event once complaints about the recognition for her poured in. Kurek’s award was withdrawn the day after the cancellation was announced, but not before the Polish-Jewish Dialogue had a plaque made for her.

That’s not where Ewa Kurek’s adventures in America ended. In Boston, on April 11, at an event at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish sponsored by the eastern Massachusetts chapter of the Polish American Congress and the Kluby Gazety Polskiej of Boston, Kurek spun noxious arguments about alleged Jewish complicity in the Holocaust. On April 14, she gave a speech at a conference to commemorate the Smolensk plane crash—the 2010 disaster that killed Poland’s president and other dignitaries—which was held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a center of right-wing Polish diaspora activity in the United States. The event had a number of other far-right participants and sponsors, and also drew Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who stopped by for approximately 15 minutes according to his Capitol Hill office.

Even more jarring is Kurek’s appearance, on April 18, in the downstairs church at the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn—A writer credibly accused of twisting the historical record of the Holocaust to inflame divisions between Poles and Jews gave a talk in a borough where perhaps as many as one in four residents are Jewish. All three of Kurek’s speeches were in Polish.

“What is particularly alarming,” Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a former chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial said of Kurek’s U.S. speeches, “is the fact that professional anti-Semites and Holocaust distorters are finding audiences and mining U.S. communities for support.”

Kurek’s trip around the northeast came at a sensitive moment for relations between Poland and the Jewish world. Earlier this year, a law criminalizing claims of Polish responsibility for the Holocaust sparked a diplomatic confrontation between Poland and Israel while ripping open one of the deepest wounds in both Polish and Jewish history. Kurek’s tour of America shows that the fight over the historical memory of the Holocaust in Poland is taking on a noxious character even in the U.S. As Havi Dreifuss, a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem put it, “Kurek is using the Holocaust and using Jewish history and Polish history in order to spread hate.” For a week in April, she was doing that right here in the United States.

Kurek’s highest-profile talk was at the Smolensk commemoration in Doylestown on April 14. A flyer for the event indicates that it was co-sponsored by a number of Polish diaspora groups, including the local chapter of the Polish American Congress, the Coalition of Polish Americans, and the Slavic Federal Credit Union. One notable co-sponsor included the Perth Amboy, New Jersey-based Friends of Radio Maryja, which supports a far-right Polish radio station that the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism called “one of Europe’s most blatantly anti-Semitic media venues,” and whose anti-Semitism is so plentiful that the outlet has en entire dedicated page on the Anti-Defamation League’s website. Friends of Radio Marijya is also a member of the Smolensk Disaster Commemoration Committee, the group most directly responsible for organizing the Doylestown event.  The Committee also includes the Gazeta Polska clubs of New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia.

John Czop, the treasurer of the Smolensk Committee and the director of policy planning for the national-level Polish American Congress, said that Kurek discussed a “Hasidic Jewish poet” during her talk who supposedly “claimed that the Polish state had nothing to do with the mass murder of Polish Jewry.” The assertion of official Polish blamelessness for the Holocaust was “the gist of Kurek’s remarks,” Czop said. Czop specified that the Committee “never wrote a check to Ewa Kurek” for her appearance. “She has a lot of wealthy friends in the United States,” he added.

Kurek appeared on a panel with Marek Jan Chodakiewcz of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for World Politics, who argued that Poland bore little responsibility for the 1968 anti-Semitic purges that resulted in the expulsion of many of the country’s remaining Jews. “Chodakiewcz delivered a lecture on March 1968 in Poland about how the accusation of anti-Semitism leveled at the Polish nation and the Polish people was manufactured and was a creation of Soviet propaganda. The Kremlin wanted to purge the Polish Communist Party of one faction and put the other faction into power,” Czop recalled of Chodakiewcz’s talk. In a Polish-language article earlier this year, Chokadiewcz fretted that the purges would likely be viewed through the prism of Polish anti-Semitism during their upcoming 50th anniversary, and claimed that it was trans-national communists and not Poles who brought about the expulsions.

When reached for comment by email, Chodakiewcz clarified that his speech covered “Soviet policy toward Israel before and after the stunning Jewish victory in 1967. I argued that virtually EVERY major policy was imposed by Moscow and/or vetted by it. I showed how the Six Day War triggered an anti-Jewish propaganda offensive first in the Soviet press. And I explained how the purge in 1968 started at the top: Polish ethnic and other Communists targeted the Communists of Jewish origin, and then the operation spread down, impacting regular folks.”

Kurek was not the only participant in the Smolensk commemoration with a history of problematic statements about Jews. In 2002, Antoni Macierewicz, a former defense minister who headed a parliamentary inquiry into the Smolensk disaster, told Radio Maryja that he thought the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, while possibly fake, might still be an accurate reflection of reality. Jan Zaryn, who was also listed as attending the event, is a far-right parliamentarian who introduced a resolution denying most Polish responsibility for the 1968 purges, and has called for the prosecution of the Princeton Holocaust historian Jan Tomasz Gross.

There were more mainstream figures in attendance too. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick made a brief appearance, although his Washington office claimed that he did not stick around for the panel discussions and was not familiar with Kurek, Zaryn, or Friends of Radio Maryja. Czop said that a representative from the Polish Consulate in New York was in attendance as well, and the Consulate confirmed to Tablet that vice consul Mateusz Gmura went to the event.

Weitzman said he worried that Fitzpatrick may have “passively legitimized the event,” even if the congressman didn’t know anything about Kurek or the conference’s other participants. “If someone appears on a platform with David Duke or Richard Spencer or Louis Farrakhan, they have to accept responsibility for that,” Weitzman said, adding that he considers Kurek to be roughly analogous to them.

In Czop’s view, Kurek is a serious historian whose work is methodologically rigorous. “She’s done careful research in resources in Israel and in Poland, so she needs to be taken seriously,” he said.

Chodakiewcz defended Kurek’s scholarship, even though he said he didn’t agree with all of it. “[F]or a very long time her scholarship was admired,” he wrote. “She did solid work on rescue during the Holocaust, in particular in convents and monasteries.”

According to Kurek’s online CV, she has presented papers at Princeton and at a 1988 conference at Yad Vashem. Czop said that the first time he saw Kurek speak was at Columbia University in 2007, in a talk introducing the arguments from her bookJewish-Polish Relations 1939-1945: Beyond the Limits of Solidarity. In the speech, Czop recalled, Kurek argued that “Polish Jewry tried to get an autonomy arrangement from Nazi Germany similar to the autonomy arrangement that they had been trying to work out with the Polish state.” According to Czop, Kurek claimed that “at least until the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941…Nazi policy towards Polish Jewry was essentially one of having them govern themselves in their own ghettos.”

This is an odd definition of self-governance—but it was offered at an event held at an Ivy League institution, by an author of nine books with a PhD from the Catholic University of Lublin. Kurek studied under the late Polish foreign minister and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and the forward to her 1992 book Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland, 1939-1945, was written by none other than Jan Karski (Last month, Karski’s literary executor strongly objected to Kurek being given the Dialogue’s award).

To her critics, Kurek’s credentials are part of what makes her such an alarming figure. She is an expert in the very historical record she’s accused of twisting: Because she gives consideration to Jewish sources, has had multiple books translated into English, and displays a bland professorial evenness during her public appearances, a typical listener might not be able to detect any bad faith lurking behind her words. She is maybe the only legitimate Holocaust scholar to have become an alleged Holocaust revisionist or distorter during a later phase of her career. When asked for potential precedents, David Silberklang, the editor-in-chief of Yad Vashem Studies and a leading expert on the Holocaust in Poland, could only think of the British Holocaust denier David Irving, who lacked Kurek’s extensive formal credentials and was never taken seriously as an academic historian.

Your Life Is Worth Mine, the book for which she is still best known, recounted Polish nuns’ efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Experts have noted some odd methodological choices in the book, which is based almost entirely on the memoirs of the nuns themselves and might have overestimated the extent to which Polish orders protected Jewish children during the war. “Outside of Poland the book was not considered to be top-notch scholarship,” said Silberklang. Yet to certain ears—and to people who wouldn’t necessarily know better—Kurek does not sound like an ideological extremist, but a fair-minded scholar who bases her work on historical evidence that Poland’s Jews themselves left behind.

“When you hear what was published by her and in her name in the last few weeks or months, you can see that the problem is not that she doesn’t know the history—she knows the historical facts. But she is distorting them,” said Dreifuss.

Katka Reszke, a Polish-born writer, artist, and Jewish educator who attended Kurek’s April 11 talk in Boston, said that Kurek has a favorite rhetorical trick: She’ll quote a contemporaneous`Jewish source, like a diary or a letter, as if it is the final word on a given topic and without providing any context that would complicate the historical narrative she is trying to construct. This tactic enables her to use Jews’ own words to confirm a hardline Polish nationalist narrative of the Holocaust, while also making Kurek herself appear broad-minded and evidentially rigorous. “She does this great job of quoting the sources that she wants to quote while not quoting other sources,” said Reszke. “But as a historian who has clearly read a lot about this, she’s obviously also read the stuff she doesn’t want to quote.”

Silberklang had a similarly unsparing verdict on Kurek’s work. “She doesn’t deny that Nazi Germany wanted to kill the Jews and that Jews were killed. She’s not a Holocaust denier in that sense,” he said. “But she distorts things so radically and so egregiously that she’s basically in the realm of Holocaust denial, or at least extreme distortion.”

Based on her April 18 speech in Greenpoint, which is partially available on YouTube, this is a defensible statement. According to Zygmunt Staszewski, a member of the Polish-Jewish dialogue who helped nominate Kurek for the Jan Karski prize, the Brooklyn talk was planned by Witold Rosowski, a journalist and activist known in Polish diaspora circles for his staunch right-wing views. Rosowski moderated the question-and-answer period at the Greenpoint talk and sat at a front table during her speech. When reached by email, Rosowski said he “helped to ensure the location for Dr. Ewa Kurek’s lecture in Greenpoint.” He said the talk was organized by “just a few people” and wasn’t sponsored by any organization.

During the Greenpoint event, Kurek made the incendiary claim that Poland’s urbanized and assimilated Jews took advantage of the Nazi occupation in order to help exterminate the country’s Hasidic population, whom Poland’s more educated Jews hated. “A few assimilated Jews survived the war: Some doctors or lawyers who during the war were most often members of the Jewish police and murdered Hasidim,” she said. The “enlightened elite” of Polish Jewry—most of whom survived the conflict because of their willingness to work with the Nazis, according to Kurek—had decided that “the rabble must perish.”

Kurek drifted into similarly odd territory when discussing the communist period during her Greenpoint speech, making liberal use of the phrase “żydokomuna”—a loaded term that vaguely translates to “Judeo-communism”—while claiming that much of the Jewish population in Poland today is descended from Jews who arrived with the Red Army at the tail-end of WWII.

Rosowski does not believe Kurek is an anti-Semite. If anything, he wrote, she is “a philo-Semite  since she presented a great interest in Jewish history, culture and faith in her life…There are very few people like her.” He said he was involved in organizing the Greenpoint speech because Kurek “is quite famous in Poland,” partly as a result of the controversies surrounding the country’s Holocaust law. “The alleged anti- Semitism of Dr. Kurek is probably coming from her telling the details of Ghetto in Lodz, where Chaim Rumkowski, as the Jewish commandant of the Ghetto, had a big role in sending Jews to German concentration camps,” Rososwki wrote. “She also stays firm, as have all Polish and Polish- Americans, defending the new law—stating that the death camps were German, built by Germans on the invaded and occupied territory of former Poland.”

As Rosowski suggests, many Poles resent being blamed for a German crime committed on their land. But Kurek’s recent career shows how legitimate grievances can spark much darker impulses. Reszke, the Polish-born author who attended Kurek’s speech at a church in Boston on April 11—the night of Yom HaShoah— explained that one of the eeriest things about the talk came from what she intuited about the other 50 or so people in the room, who might not have borne any specific ill will toward Jews and whose sense of hurt at slanders against the Polish people was sincerely felt. “The people that listen to her and that read her books don’t realize the manipulation behind it,” said Reszke. “They take it at face value and it perpetuates some feelings that they might have and also strengthens this idea that all Jews hate them.” At Kurek’s talk, Reszke said, she could see how seamlessly hatred could be repackaged into a normative worldview that people wouldn’t consciously question. “I think there’s danger in perpetuating anti-Semitism that doesn’t see itself as anti-Semitism,” she added, reflecting on the event. She left the talk wondering “how many decades or centuries” it would take to bridge the divisions on display.

Reszke recorded the entirety of Kurek’s speech, and took copious notes. Kurek returned to the idea that urbanized Jews had aided the Nazis in wiping out most of Poland’s Jewish population: “I’m telling you about the scale of Jewish collaboration in the murder of Jews. Collaboration in the murders and in the catching of Jews and in deporting them was overwhelming,” Kurek reportedly said—“she keeps reporting that it’s all in Jewish sources,” Reszke added.

“Who survived?” Kurek continued, according to Reszke. “Jewish policeman, doctors from the ghetto infirmaries who didn’t cure people but sent them to their death. Such beasts survived and these beasts created the little tale to obscure the truth about what really happened.” That “tale” refers to the widely accepted narrative about the Holocaust, which tends to assign some measure of guilt to societies that either aided in the purge of their Jews or did little to actually halt the carnage. “Most of the time it sounded like she was coming to the defense of the Germans more than the Poles,” Reszke observed. After all, “she’s speaking to a crowd that’s already convinced the Poles had nothing to do with any of the murders.”

Reszke did not necessarily plan on confronting Kurek. But she said she had come to her speech out of a sense of moral obligation, both to record Kurek’s statements and to challenge them if the opportunity arose. Toward the end of the talk, Kurek returned to another of her more controversial claims: The idea that Jews had chosen to live in the ghettos during WWII, which afforded protection from the chaos of wartime Poland. “As I was sitting there listening to this babble I kept saying to myself: Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t speak, because it’s really not going to go down very well…In a way, I don’t remember making a conscious decisions to speak. I just heard myself talking.”

How, Reszke asked towards the end of the event amid an increasingly hostile crowd, does Kurek understand the fact that the Warsaw Ghetto was walled, with watchtowers to prevent people from leaving? Is that the sign of a happy and voluntary social arrangement?  “I say: So you’re saying it was the Jewish community’s idea to build a wall around the Warsaw ghetto? She said yes. Then she called me a young, undereducated little person and the crowd applauded.”

Reszke approached Kurek when the talk ended. Kurek asked for her business card. Reszke then tried to give Kurek an idea of the damage she was doing to the already fragile relationship between Jews and Poles. “I told her that I’ve lived in the States for over ten years and I’ve actually been doing quite a lot of work in my writing and in my public speaking talking about Poland today and the Jewish community in Poland and how things aren’t as bad as a lot of people think, and how there’s renewal and there’s Jewish life there—and now it’s because of people like you that I have a problem.” According to Reszke, all Kurek could say in response was a sharp “goodbye.”

Tablet intern Theo Canter contributed reporting to this article


They survived the Holocaust. Now the world is forgetting what they endured.


They have lived so long they are watching the world forget.

These Holocaust survivors — who range in age from 79 to 101 — gathered for an annual brunch Sunday in suburban Washington, where they were honored in the twilight of their extraordinary lives for what they had endured and how they had rebuilt in America. There were white rose corsages and boutonnieres, bagels and lox, a nice fruit salad.

But the past was not in the past. Hours before the gathering, a neo-Nazi rally was held in Georgia that ended with the burning of a giant swastika. In August, the Holocaust survivors watched white supremacists and neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville, chanting chilling anti-Semitic messages right out of the Hitler playbook: “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil.”

Edith Mayer Cord, 90, who was born in Vienna and spent her youth hiding and then escaping while family members were taken to Auschwitz, said she never imagined Nazi flags would fly in America in her lifetime. Or that rising anti-Semitism would be part of the national conversation.

“No. I never,” Cord said. “Not in this country.”

“I thought it was finished,” she said.

Yet over the weekend, President Trump tweeted about “Sleepy eyes Chuck Todd,” the NBC “Meet the Press” host who is Jewish. That is one of Trump’s favorite insults for Todd and one of the descriptions that has been hurled at Jews in the past. It has been on horrifying “How to Spot a Jew” lists since World War II and all over racist, white nationalist websites.

Trump has been accused of anti-Semitism before, especially in the wake of Charlottesville. Though the president has Jewish grandchildren, he seems to have lots of sympathy for virulent anti-Semites.

Then there is D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), an elected official right here in the nation’s capital, who wondered aloud last month whether the Rothschilds — a wealthy Jewish banking family often accused of controlling governments — are somehow controlling the weather, too.

After White was accused of rank anti-Semitism, he launched an apology tour and agreed to a guided visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for some much-needed education.

During the tour last week, Washington Post reporter Peter Jamison saw White insist that a woman in a 1935 photo being publicly humiliated and marched through her German town by Nazi stormtroopers was being protected.

One of White’s aides, in front of a photo of the Warsaw Ghetto, likened it to “a gated community.” The patient tour guide told them it was “more like a prison.”

By then, White had ditched his tour and his guides and left the museum without explanation, halfway through the visit.

Then, The Post’s Fenit Nirappil learned that White had given a $500 donation in January at a Nation of Islam event where Louis Farrakhan said, “Powerful Jews are my enemy.”

When Joel Appelbaum began the survivors’ brunch at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville eight years ago, it was in the spirit of honoring the people and their remarkable lives.

There were 50 of them, and very few wanted to talk publicly about their experiences, but they gathered and told small snippets of their stories to tablemates.

That is part of the survival, packing it away. Because how can you live a life of paying bills, doing dishes, raising the kids and sitting at a desk if you keep remembering the Nazi stormtroopers who machine-gunned everyone in the house while you — tiny, terrified you — hid in the closet during the bloodbath? If you keep lingering on the moment when half the people you were with were marched out to the freezing river, shot and thrown into the current when you were just 5 years old? If you remember the packed, hellish train to Auschwitz, during which 70 people in the train car died and you were one of 40 who survived — only to face the horrors of a death camp?

There is a new urgency in remembering those stories.

Two-thirds of American millennials polled did not know what Auschwitz is, and 22 percent had not heard of the Holocaust or were not sure if they had, according to a new survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

In their sunset years, the incredible Maryland survivors are opening up.

A handful of them went to the microphone at the Progress Club in Rockville on Sunday and told small stories they had not told before. Because something has changed in this country.

Not that it is easier.

Josiane Traum, 79, still choked up as she talked about the incredible act of bravery by her mother, Fanny Aizenberg, who lived through all the signature horrors of the Holocaust — from beatings by the Gestapo, to time in Auschwitz as a laborer and medical experiment subject — after giving her little daughter up to people who said they would hide her.

“My mother was so brave,” Traum said. “My mother gave me up and didn’t know if she’d ever see me again. . . . I am really, really lucky.”

They did see each other again. They sat next to each other at the brunch, representing the alpha and omega of the survivors’ age range, 79 and 101.

Aizenberg, the grande dame of the survivor’s group who still volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum once a week, refuses to be called a hero.

“People tell you how they survived? They always ask me, ‘How did you survive?’ ” she said, in between brunch bites. “No one can tell you how they survived.”

“I don’t know how I survived,” she said.

The horrors are so profound. The stories grotesque and cruel, especially when told in a setting of china and stemmed water glasses.

The horrors are not gone. Never has that been clearer with this group than now.

“Nazism isn’t something that just happened one day because of one bad guy,” Cord said. “All of these ideas were there — all he had to do was pick them up.”

All of those ideas are still here. But we must never, ever let anyone pick them all up.

Never again.



Polish nationalists seek probe of Rivlin for saying Poland played Holocaust role

Group asks prosecutors to check whether Israeli president broke new controversial law when, speaking at Auschwitz, he said Poland enabled Nazi genocide

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, left, and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, center, walk in the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish nationalist group has asked prosecutors to investigate whether Israeli President Reuven Rivlin broke a new Holocaust speech law during a visit to Poland last week.

The National Movement says it believes the Israeli leader might have violated legislation that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or state for the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II.

The group’s vice president, Krzysztof Bosak, said it formally filed its request to prosecutors on Tuesday.

He said the matter concerns Rivlin telling his Polish counterpart during commemorations at Auschwitz last Thursday that Poland enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide.

Rivlin told Polish president Andrjez Duda last week that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination, and that Poland as country played a role.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging the recently passed legislation.

Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

Bosak acknowledged his group was testing the law, which is not being enforced in practice after sparking a dispute with Israel.

The Israeli president noted that Israel honors those Poles who gave their own lives to save Jews, but pointed out the widespread anti-Semitism that existed in Holocaust-era Poland and the fact that many Poles also participated in the extermination.

“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.

“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda.

“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”

Addressing the recent controversy over the Holocaust legislation, Duda admitted “there is great disagreement” on the matter but reiterated that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”

One key paragraph of the new law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

But last month, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.


‘Like a mitzvah’: Italian conductor brings to life music composed in the camps

Francesco Lotoro spent the last 30 years researching music lost in the Holocaust; now he’s performing it with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra

Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro rehearses his concert of reconstructed musical compositions created in the concentration camps, April 8, 2018 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

When the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra performs a selection of reconstructed music composed by Holocaust victims next week in Jerusalem, it will feel like the fulfillment of a mitzvah, said Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro, using the Hebrew word for a meritorious act.

“To play this music feels like a reparation for me,” said Lotoro. “Each Jew is said to have a book in them. These victims didn’t get the chance to write their books, but this is their book; it’s a testament to what they would have done.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Lotoro began a laborious process of researching works of music composed in the concentration camps, delving into the lives and thoughts of the victims who found ways to write lyrics and compose scores.

Lotoro has since discovered 8,000 pieces of music composed by Jews in the concentration and work camps, and has reconstructed some 400 of them. He has published a set of 24 discs called the “Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps.”

On Sunday, Lotoro arrived in Ashdod’s Yad Labanim auditorium for a morning of rehearsals for “Notes of Hope,” the upcoming April 15 concert featuring the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

The project is spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom, with the goal of celebrating Israel’s 70th and raising awareness of increasing levels of global anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The British non-profit also funds two music schools in Israel’s south, and some of those young musicians will be performing alongside the more senior members of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

Francesco Lotoro, the Italian conductor and pianist, who has spent 30 years researching music composed in the concentration camps (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

During Sunday’s morning rehearsal, Lotoro was busy working with the musicians, introducing pieces to the orchestra with a brief bio of the composer. He sprang into action with each composition, waving his hands and muttering the tune or words, if there were any, sotto voce.

The pieces vary widely in sound and genre. There are classical works heavy on violins and cello, joyous, big-band scores full of horns and the sounds of ragtime, and a piercing, emotional work of Greek music.

For the sparse audience at the rehearsal, there was a sense of wonder in imagining what it must have been like for the camp inmates who composed these works while undergoing Nazi torture. Yet for the musicians, it was the usual cacophony of perfecting sounds and handling logistics.

A pair of preteen violinists approached Lotoro about where they were sitting, while an accordion player wanted to be sure he was getting the right sound on one section.

Lotoro is the right person to ask. He reconstructed these compositions based on materials he found, scouring secondhand stores, attic drawers and dusty archives.

“When I would find sheets of music in a museum, okay, it’s there,” he said. “But sometimes survivors or their family would find a song, but no score. One woman had recordings, and I made a master of that and then had to figure out the score.”

Sometimes survivors could remember a piano piece, which Lotoro would then recreate from their humming the tune or singing the lyrics. Sometimes there written pieces that had disintegrated, eaten by insects, or had been written in pencil that had become nearly invisible.

A composer might have written notes quickly and roughly, leaving markings and notes that Lotoro painstakingly transcribed into something akin to a musical score.

In a German labor camp, Ervin Schulhoff, a Jewish Czech communist who loved jazz and ragtime, included three cryptic sets of horizontal markings in a piece of 10 verses he composed. After conferring with another musicologist, Lotoro figured out that the markings stood for Lenin, Stalin and Marx, the three Communist leaders.

One of the discovered works, Rudolf Karel’s ‘Nonet’ scrawled on toilet paper (Courtesy Francesco Lotoro)

“Each one of them had their histories, and their lyrics and scores referenced all of that,” he said. “They couldn’t use their mother tongues in the camps — that was prohibited — and that also altered what they wrote.”

Lotoro’s involvement in this piece of Holocaust history began when, in his work as a pianist and conductor, he happened upon several pieces of music composed by concentration camp victims, exposing him to an area of research that hadn’t been examined closely at that time.

“There was no internet, no iPhones,” he said. “I was curious, and that meant traveling to the cities where these composers had lived, to Prague, to Paris, to Holland.”

His research focused on a period beginning in 1933, when Jews in Germany began experiencing Nazi persecution, and continuing through 1944, when the Germans began to lose World War II.

It wasn’t an obvious area of research for Lotoro, 53, who was raised as an  Italian Catholic in Barletta on the Adriatic coast, a place of maybe “300 Jews,” he said, holding up three fingers.

Yet from the age of 15, Lotoro felt he had a Jewish soul. He had, on his own, begun a process of Jewish study, eventually converting to Judaism in 2004. He later discovered that his great-grandfather was Jewish.

The Holocaust research happened alongside his drawn-out conversion process. Over the last 30 years, Lotoro has spent months on the project, recruiting friends and family as well, traveling to many countries, searching homes and attics, archives and libraries.

“I didn’t do this because I was becoming a Jew,” he said. “As a musicologist, I was interested in the music. But as a Jew, this feels like a mitzvah.”


PA TV presents image of Nazi camp victims as taken from ‘Deir Yassin massacre’

Original picture, photographed right after liberation of Nordhausen, edited to exclude images of corpses in striped uniforms

A doctored image of Jewish Holocaust victims portrayed by Palestinian television in April 2018 as an image of Arab victims of the "Deir Yassin massacre" in 1948 (PMW)

The Palestinian Authority’s official television station misappropriated a photo showing dead bodies at a Nazi concentration camp, presenting them as Arabs killed by Jews in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

In an April 9 report on the 70th anniversary of the Deir Yassin events, Palestine TV used an image from the Nazi camp at Nordhausen, originally a subcamp of Buchenwald, to describe what took place at the Arab village in 1948, the Palestinian Media Watch group said Wednesday.

The Palestinians refer to those events as the “Deir Yassin massacre,” a term used repeatedly in the PA TV report. The village was located at the entrance to Jerusalem, where the Givat Shaul neighborhood stands today.

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During the incident, fighters from the Jewish Irgun and Lehi groups entered the town and, in house-to-house fighting, killed many of its residents, including women and children. The death toll is disputed: while the Israeli fighters said they had killed some 254, other counts put that figure at as low as 107.

The original picture, which was taken right after liberation of the concentration camp by the American army, was “carefully distorted” by Palestine TV so that the images of the corpses in the striped uniforms, the American soldiers and the concentration camp buildings were not seen, PMW said.

An image of Jewish Holocaust victims that Palestinian television doctored and presented as an image of Arab victims of the Deir Yassin killings in 1948 (PMW)

The following caption was added by Palestine TV: “When they killed and mutilated the bodies of 250 women, children and elderly residents.” The caption refers to the events at Deir Yassin.

The TV video also included a photo of victims of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugees camps in Lebanon. Then, hundreds of Palestinians were slaughtered by Christian militiamen. The photo of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre was also misrepresented as showing Arabs killed by Jews in Deir Yassin.

The Palestine TV video also included a photo with the following text printed on the screen: “And [the Jews] burned the women and children in the village’s oven.”

On Thursday, Israel will mark Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, to pay tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust, including at Nazi concentration camps like Nordhausen.