How Holocaust experts want to help Zuckerberg solve Facebook’s denial dilemma

After Facebook chief told interviewer he doesn’t think Holocaust deniers are ‘intentionally getting it wrong,’ 6,000 individuals and institutions call for content’s removal

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho, July 14, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/via JTA)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho, July 14, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/via JTA)

Holocaust experts want to meet with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the social network’s unwillingness to automatically remove anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial material.

The heads of organizations and experts involved in Holocaust and genocide education offered to meet with Zuckerberg and help raise Holocaust awareness within the Facebook community.

In late July, Zuckerberg said in an interview published online that he would not automatically remove Holocaust-denying posts from the social network he founded.

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“Facebook must not allow complete and utter falsehoods about the Holocaust, and about the Jewish people, to go systematically unchecked,” the letter dated Tuesday to Zuckerberg says. “Virulent antisemitism is a proven pathway that leads from rhetorical hatred to actions of violence. Freedom of speech laws are not a reason to do nothing — inaction is always the opportunity for evil to flourish. All genocide starts with distortion of the truth and prejudice.”

The experts later say: “We offer you tangible, rapidly executable steps towards Facebook becoming part of the solution. We can deliver proven educational resources in multiple languages, ready for digital deployment with Facebook — important as you may wish to break the task down by different jurisdictions with different laws.”

They also offer “cost-free professional development programs for educators on Facebook to give them resources, skills and confidence to tackle hate and prejudice, and to teach empathy, understanding and respect.”

Among the signers are Simon Bentley, head of Yad Vashem UK; Peter Schafer of the Jewish Museum Berlin; Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation; Laura Marks, chairwoman of the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; and Diane Lee, director general of the Imperial War Museum in London.

In an interview published on the Recode website, Zuckerberg had told tech journalist Kara Swisher: “I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.” He said, “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

Zuckerberg later clarified his comments, saying “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

Meanwhile, some 6,000 educational institutions, museums and individuals from around the world signed a petition started by the New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect along with the Association of Holocaust Organizations, and Holocaust Learning and Education Fund calling on Zuckerberg and Facebook to stop hosting Holocaust denial on the social network.


Lithuania pays tribute to a genocidal monster

Jonas Noreika, whose granddaughter confirms he murdered more than 14,000 Jews, is honored as a national hero

First exposed by the German magazine Der-Spiegel in 1984, it has long been known that Noreika was culpable in the murder of his Jewish neighbors in Northwestern Lithuania. Yet Noreika officially and legally remains one of Lithuania’s greatest national heroes, and is honored with a plaque on the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building. Over a decade ago, this incongruous adulation of a genocidal monster struck me, a Jewish Lithuanian citizen, as reprehensible. I immediately began my campaign to remove this monument. I had no idea that the official conversion of monsters into heroes was a deliberate Lithuanian agenda.

My appeals to Lithuanian officials and diplomats went unanswered and articles in the international press were ignored. In 2015, nineteen of Lithuania’s leading citizens, including Lithuania’s own member of the European Parliament, the late philosopher Leonidas Donskis, signed a public statement calling for the removal of a monument that glorifies a  mass murderer.

The responsibility for examination of genocide in Lithuania lies with the “Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania,” under the leadership of Terese Birute Burauskaite. Her public response to the petition, posted on the Center’s Facebook page reads:

The contempt being shown for Lithuanian patriots is organized by neighbors from the East. They are assisted by some Jews, but also by a sufficiently large number of Lithuanians, (their last names [are] listed below the request to rescind the Award [Order] [remove the plaque] in defamatory press articles. Some do it consciously, others – out of stupidity.

My appeals to Lithuanian President Grybauskaite were referred back to Burauskaite. The State Supreme Court and the State Security Agency then also confirmed Noreika’s heroic status. All investigative roads were directed back to Burauskaite and her staff of ideological historians who hue to the orthodox and approve national narrative.

During the late 1990s, Lithuania created a truth and reconciliation commission, The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania. The Commission collapsed after Lithuanian authorities declined to punish murderers of Jews, and instead investigated Jewish resistance fighters for possibly having committed crimes in order to survive. Under the shadow of international scandal, the Commission dissolved and was later re-constituted. The new executive director of the Commission, Ronaldas Račinskas, recently stated in writing that data showing Noreika’s murderous acts are inaccurate, unreliable, and claims against Noreika  are “total fake.”

Recognizing that appeals to remove the monument of Noreika for moral reasons were futile, I then approached Lithuania’s Heritage Department, to ask for removal simply because the monument did not meet legislated aesthetic standards. Somehow, the Heritage Department was unable to determine their own stated standards and fought three separate court cases which I brought against them. Ultimately, the suits were rejected by the Lithuanian Courts. It was clear that the Courts and Heritage Department agreed with the President, the State Security Department, the Supreme Court, the Genocide Center and the Executive Director of the Lithuanian Commission that Jonas Noreika should remain an unblemished hero.

Rejecting all presented documentary evidence of his crimes, the government proposed that I undertake my own academic study and I agreed. Eight months of professional, objective and independent study of many thousands of documents in Lithuania’s own archives produced incontrovertible evidence of Noreika’s guilt. A government spokesperson then posted a response on the Genocide Centers webpage. I was now accused of having possibly contravened Lithuanian law, and the Lithuanian Constitution, by submitting a report which was itself proposed by the government. The government’s response was then not to address a single document containing Noreika’s signature showing his crimes against humanity. I proudly stand in the company of remarkable Jewish Lithuanian partisans in being accused of possible crimes for stating the truth about Lithuanian Holocaust complicity.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has publicly entered the debate, confirming that Noreika was definitely a Holocaust perpetrator. Without knowing of the multitude of other Holocaust perpetrators who have also been transformed into national heroes, Noreika’s granddaughter describes Lithuania’s historical revisionism as “one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th century.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis will visit Lithuania. One wonders how he will react when he passes the monument for Noreika. What story will President Grybauskaite invent when asked about the Holocaust denial of Lithuania, if she runs for the Presidency of the European Council in 2019?

Surely, an intricate web of lies will soon be exposed.


After complaints, Amazon removes swastika pendants, onesies with burning crosses

Advocacy groups say retail giant’s ‘weak and inadequately enforced’ policies allow racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic groups to generate money and spread ideas

A Pewter Swastika Pendant Necklace marked "currently unavailable" at on August 5, 2018

Amazon says it has removed items with Nazi or white supremacist symbols from its website after criticism from advocacy groups.

An Amazon executive said the company blocked the accounts of some retailers and might suspend them. Such items were still listed and displayed on as of August 5, 2018, though some were marked unavailable.

Democratic US Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota complained to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last month. The company’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, responded to Ellison, telling him that Amazon prohibits listing products that promote or glorify hatred, violence or intolerance.

A spokeswoman for Seattle-based Inc. declined to comment further on Sunday.

In early July, the Partnership for Working Families and the Action Center on Race and the Economy highlighted Amazon listings including swastika pendants, baby onesies with burning cross logos and a costume that makes the wearer look like he has been lynched — the model appears to be a black man.

The groups said that Amazon’s “weak and inadequately enforced” policies allowed racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic groups to generate money and spread their ideas.

Ellison, who is deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, asked Bezos how much money Amazon made from selling material including books published by hate groups since 2015, and whether it would destroy such merchandise at its warehouses.

Huseman said Amazon “makes a significant investment” in enforcing seller policies, including automated tools to scan listings and automatically removing those that violate its policies.

The executive said Amazon was preventing the sale of the items in question and was in the process of removing them from fulfillment centers.


How Britain’s Nazi-loving press baron made the case for Hitler

The Daily Mail was once the country’s highest selling newspaper, but owner Lord Rothermere was more concerned with ‘Bolshevik troublemakers’ than an impending genocide

LONDON — When Adolf Hitler entered the Reich Chancellery on January 30, 1933, the cheers of the Nazi stormtroopers in Berlin were echoed in Northcliffe House, the home of Britain’s then highest-selling newspaper.

The Daily Mail was not the only national daily to adopt an overly tolerant attitude towards Hitler during the 1930s, a position which reflected widespread public support for the government’s appeasement policy.

But it went far further than any other newspaper in sympathizing with the Nazis and it did so at the insistence of its overweening proprietor, Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere.

Lord Rothermere was a staunch admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, who also briefly flirted with fascism in Britain. Born 150 years ago this summer, Rothermere was also, alongside Lord Beaverbrook, the most powerful press baron during the interwar years.

As historian Piers Brendon has suggested, the two were “mad, bad, dangerous-to-know beasts in the newspaper jungle who did what they wanted.”

Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister with whom the two men frequently tangled, publicly accused them of seeking “power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Rothermere launched the Daily Mail in 1896 with his elder brother, Alfred Harmsworth, who was later named Lord Northcliffe. By 1930, they owned 14 daily and Sunday newspapers, and a substantial share in three more.

With Northcliffe’s death in 1922, Rothermere’s writ ran across his newspaper stable unchallenged. The peer, a 1938 study concluded, issued “general instructions to his editors and [gave] massive broadsides in the form of articles in the Daily Mail, which [were] duly reproduced by other papers in the group.”

Thus, as Martin Pugh suggests in his history of British interwar fascism, Rothermere was “perhaps the most influential single propagandist for fascism between the wars.”

Rothermere’s support for Hitler and Mussolini stemmed from his deep fear and loathing of Bolshevism and the Soviet Union, against which he saw the dictators as a critical bulwark.

Shortly after Mussolini came to power, Rothermere laid his cards on the table. In an article in the Mail entitled “What Europe Owes to Mussolini,” he expressed his “profound admiration” for Italy’s new leader.

“In saving Italy he stopped the inroads of Bolshevism which would have left Europe in ruins… in my judgment he saved the whole Western world,” Rothermere declared.

His frequent visits to Italy seemed only to further stoke Rothermere’s enthusiasm for the Duce.

“He is the greatest figure of the age,” Rothermere proclaimed in 1928. “Mussolini will probably dominate the history of the 20th century as Napoleon dominated that of the early 19th.”

Hitler and Mussolini in Munich, Germany, June 18, 1940. Hitler was at a high point, as his army accomplished a string of victories and was completing its conquest of continental Western Europe. (Shutterstock)

Rothermere initially believed that Britain was “not suited” to fascism, but a general strike in 1926 and a fear that Baldwin was displaying “the feebleness which tries to placate opposition by being more socialist than the Socialists,” led him to reappraise this view as a new decade dawned.

The Mail’s first portrayal of Hitler was not an altogether flattering one. Interviewing the Nazi leader in 1923, the paper’s Berlin correspondent, Rothay Reynolds, was distinctly underwhelmed. Hitler did not possess the “genius” of Mussolini, he wrote. “When I left the headquarters I felt as if I had left a madhouse.”

But, as Will Wainewright describes in his book “Reporting Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press in Nazi Germany,” the Mail’s enthusiasm for the Nazis would grow as their support in Germany surged.

By the 1930 election, when the Nazis’ seats in the Reichstag jumped from 12 to 107, Rothermere was a convert.

“[The Nazis] represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation,” Rothermere wrote in the Mail. The election, he correctly prophesied, would come to be seen as “a landmark of this time.”

Grateful for this unusual support from the foreign press, Hitler granted Reynolds an exclusive interview, and showered his proprietor with praise for his “intuitive statesmanship.”

Rothermere responded with further warm words. His backing for the Nazis, he dismissively wrote, “had shocked the old women of three countries — France, Germany, and our own.”

In Weimar, Germany, Adolf Hitler participates in a Nazi party rally, 1930 (public domain)

Nonetheless, he also sounded a note of caution which suggested he did not fully understand the nature of the beast with which his newspaper had got into bed.

The Nazis’ “Jew-baiting,” Rothermere warned, was “a stupid survival of medieval prejudice.” Of course, he also added, the Jews had brought the Nazis’ displeasure on themselves, having shown “conspicuous political unwisdom since the war.”

These softly expressed qualms did not, however, curb Rothermere’s enthusiasm. Returning from Germany in July 1933, when Hitler’s consolidation of power was complete and democracy had been extinguished, Rothermere published an article in the Mail under the headline “Youth Triumphant.”

“Under Herr Hitler’s control,” he suggested, “the youth of Germany is effectively organized against the corruption of Communism.”

He contrasted Hitler’s fortitude with Baldwin’s weakness: “No strong anti-Socialist policy can be expected from a Conservative party whose leaders are themselves tainted with semi-socialist doctrines.”

Despite his former mild reservations, the press baron was also now parroting the Nazis’ anti-Semitic slurs.

Germany had been “falling under the control of alien elements,” Rothermere argued. There were 20 times as many Jews in government positions than there had been before the war.

The aftermath of the ‘Kristallnacht’ pogrom in Germany, November 1938 (public domain)

“Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine,” he noted darkly. “It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany.”

The Jews were not just a problem in Germany. The menace they posed was much more widespread, he felt.

“The Jews are everywhere, controlling everything,” Rothermere wrote in private correspondence.

Unsurprisingly, given its proprietor’s naked anti-Semitism, the Mail did not delve too deeply when it came to reporting the Nazis’ growing threat to Germany’s Jews. Its report of the boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933 even contained a statement from Hitler’s spokesman arguing that allegations of “the mishandling of Jews” were “barefaced lies.”

Reynolds, who did not share Rothermere’s adoration of Hitler, was increasingly sidelined by G. Ward Price, a correspondent more ideologically in tune with his proprietor’s Nazi sympathies and more willing to do his bidding. Price soon became a favorite of Hitler and Goebbels.

It wasn’t hard to see why the Mail’s fawning coverage of the Nazis so delighted the Fuhrer — the paper uncritically reported the butchery of the Night of the Long Knives.

Illustrative: Nazi Stormtrooper chief of staff Ernst Rohm, killed by Hitler during the ‘Night of the Long Knives,’ or ‘Rohm Purge.’ (CC-SA-Bundesarchiv Bild)

“Herr Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, has saved his country,” began its story on the frenzy of extrajudicial killings, and cheered the Nazis on as they trampled the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.

When German troops marched into the Rhineland in March 1936, the Mail suggested Hitler had “cleared the air” and warned against “Bolshevik troublemakers.” It offered a glowing report of the Anschluss two years later — penned by Price, who had hitched a ride in Hitler’s convoy as it sped towards Vienna.

And the Mail showed no sympathy for the Czechs as the Nazis dismembered their country shortly thereafter.

“Czechoslovakia is not of the remotest concern to us,” Rothermere told the paper’s readers as Hitler hungrily eyed the Sudetenland. When Britain and France caved in to Hitler’s demands at Munich in September 1938, the Mail said the agreement they had struck with Germany “brings to Europe the blessed prospect of peace.”

The Mail’s support for appeasement was by no means unique in the British press. The Times, for instance, was unwavering in its support of Neville Chamberlain’s policy. And other newspapers ran headlines and pieces that today cause red faces: “Judea declares war on Germany: Jews of all the world unite in action,” Beaverbook’s Daily Express headlined a story about a 1933 boycott of German goods organized by the Nazis’ overseas opponents.

But only the Mail and its owner were so consistently and avowedly pro-Nazi. Rothermere met Hitler for the first time in 1933 and they met several more times and struck up a warm correspondence.

Following his meetings, Rothermere believed Hitler — a “simple and unaffected man” and a “perfect gentleman” — to be “obviously sincere” in his desire for peace. “There is no man living whose promise given in regard to something of real moment I would sooner take,” he later argued.

It is impossible to know whether Hitler regarded Rothermere as anything other than a useful idiot. Still, he did his best to appear sincere in his gratitude for the press magnate’s backing.

When Rothermere applauded Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, Hitler wrote of his appreciation — and that of “countless Germans” for his “wise and beneficial” public support. But he could never quite match Rothermere’s penchant for flattery.

After the Munich agreement, Rothermere wrote to thank Hitler for the “bloodless solution” which had been reached.

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.”