IDF soldiers join battle for Holocaust memory, dignity

For the first time tech soldiers take part in hackathon, joining entrepreneurs to help preserve memory and raise the quality of life of survivors; ‘It is our duty,’ says Major E

IDF soldiers from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate took part in the  Spark Hackathon, held in May 23-24, 2019, to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and increase the quality of life of the survivors (IDF spokesperson's unit)

IDF soldiers from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate took part in the Spark Hackathon, held in May 23-24, 2019, to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and increase the quality of life of the survivors (IDF spokesperson’s unit)

For 36 hours last week Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs turned their focus to the plight of Holocaust survivors, striving to find tech solutions to their needs and ways to preserve the memory of events and educate future generations. This year, they were joined, for the first time, by IDF soldiers.

It all started when a group of IDF officers went on a study trip to the concentration camps in Poland, as part of an army program to increase awareness of the Holocaust among its soldiers. There, said Major E, who was part of the delegation, they met with a Holocaust survivor who recounted the horrors of the camps in a first-person narrative.

“I said to myself, in a few years there won’t be Holocaust survivors alive to bear firsthand witness,” she said. So she turned to her commanding officer and he challenged her to come up with a solution that would enable IDF soldiers to do their part in helping commemorate the tragedy and assist the survivors.

The best solution, she thought, would be to join the existing Spark Hackathon.

IDF soldiers from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate working on their project during the Spark Hackathon, held in May 23-24, 2019 (IDF spokesperson’s unit)

The Spark Hackathon, held for the second year running, saw some 200 participants, entrepreneurs, developers, and mentors from the tech world team up with Holocaust survivors and representatives of nonprofit organizations for two days last week to set up projects and find feasible solutions that will help commemoration and education.

The hackathon is the first of its kind the IDF has participated in, Major E said.

The 30 IDF soldiers, dressed in their uniforms, who took part in the initiative were from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate of the army. “It is our duty,” said Major E. “Our country should not be taken for granted and it should not be taken for granted that there is an army that protects this nation.”

The Holocaust victims and the survivors “didn’t have a country” to protect them, she said. “We are a technological unit. We want to do what we do best, for the good of those who have gone through so much. ”

IDF soldiers from the C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate working on their project during the Spark Hackathon, held in May 23-24, 2019 (IDF spokesperson’s unit)

An IDF team that set up an diary app — for users to write about their feelings and emotions and pictures while visiting the camps — won third place in the hackathon, she said, while the team she led, which reached the finalist stage, came up with a GPS-based emergency button that older people can take with them when they leave the house. Users can wear the button on a chain around their necks or wrists or even on a keychain, she explained. Once pressed, the button would call up either an emergency contact person or emergency services, providing them with the accurate location of the person in distress.

Now, said Major E, the IDF has given the go-ahead to proceed with the development of both ideas. The diary app, once created, will be made available to soldiers who go to Poland, she explained, while the emergency button will be developed within the army and hopefully launched as a pilot program together with Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality.

The Spark 2019 hackathon was held on May 23-24 with the goal of creating “workable solutions for challenges in education, remembrance and quality of life of Holocaust survivors,” the website says. A second goal is to create a “powerful and meaningful event” to inspire participants.

The winner of the competition was AloTok, which has developed a phone-based app that uses advanced technology to create optimal connections between users, based on their availability and shared fields of interests. The app aims to become the first social network of its kind to provide a warm, secure and accessible community atmosphere where senior citizens and Holocaust survivors can “form meaningful high-quality relationships.”

Einstein letter mocking Austria’s anti-Semitic policies up for auction

Handwritten document from 1936 sarcastically expresses support for Austrian discrimination against Jews, also takes a poke at US university quotas for Jewish students

A handwritten letter by Albert Einstein from 1936 discussing Austria's anti-Semitic policies at the time. (Courtesy Kedem Auction House)

A handwritten letter by Albert Einstein from 1936 discussing Austria’s anti-Semitic policies at the time. (Courtesy Kedem Auction House)

A handwritten letter by Albert Einstein expressing fictitious support for anti-Semitic policies enacted by Austria will go on the auction block.

The letter, dated September 30, 1936, was written shortly before Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany and addressed to Jacob Billikopf, an American-Jewish social activist and philanthropist who was working on getting Jews in Europe to escape Nazi Germany and to immigrate to the United States.

“Especially interesting is the part dealing with the attitude of the Austrian government toward the Jews, and it is even reasonable – a speck of ‘discrimination’ so as to protect us from the wrath of the masses,” the famed Jewish-German physicist wrote. “That is certainly a good point (and look at the American universities).”

Einstein’s mention of US universities is believed to refer to established quotas of Jewish students in at least several prominent educational institutions at the time.

Undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein (AP Photo, File)

The letter will go up for auction at Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The opening bid is set at $10,000 and it is expected to sell for as much as $30,000.

A co-owner of the Kedem Auction House, Meron Eren, said in a statement that the letter “introduces us to Einstein’s sarcastic humor, a side of him that has not so often been seen or familiarized by the public.”

Soccer fans beat Jew, sing about SS on Dutch liberation day from Nazis

Man in the Hague assaulted after he objected to group of 50 chanting about gassing Jews; police reportedly stood idly by

Illustrative: Feyenoord's fans light up flares during a Champions League Group F soccer match between Feyenoord and Napoli at the Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Illustrative: Feyenoord’s fans light up flares during a Champions League Group F soccer match between Feyenoord and Napoli at the Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) – A Jewish man was assaulted on the Netherlands’ national holiday of liberation from the Nazis by revelers who sang about gassing Jews.

The man, identified in the Dutch media only as Joram, 35, complained to police that he was pushed around and verbally assaulted with anti-Semitic hate speech by a group of about 50 men in the Hague on May 5, a national holiday known as Liberation Day.

The chanters then began pushing Joram around as police stood idly by, he told the AD news site and the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI.

The men were wearing soccer shirts of the Feyenoord club of Rotterdam. The club’s arch-rival is Amsterdam’s Ajax team, which is widely associated with Jews.

The chant, whose use was first reported by the media in 2015, has proliferated in the Netherlands and Belgium in recent years. In some cases, fans chant it to taunt counterparts from rival teams.

But the chant has appeared in situations connected to neither Jews nor soccer, including a high school graduation party in 2016 near Amsterdam.

Separately, Hidde van Koningsveld, the head of the pro-Israel CiJo group, last week told the Dutch media he experiences an anti-Semitic incident at least once a week in the Hague, where he works, because he wears a kippah.

Polish far-right marches in protest at US pressure for Holocaust restitution

Thousands or activists gather at US embassy in Warsaw, in one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate's 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — Thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the US Embassy in Warsaw Saturday, protesting that the US is putting pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust.

The protest took place amid a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic hate speech in public life in Poland and it appeared to be one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times. It also comes as far-right groups are gaining in popularity, pressuring the conservative government to move further to the right.

Poland was a major victim of Nazi Germany during World War II and those protesting say it is not fair to ask Poland to compensate Jewish victims when Poland has never received adequate compensation from Germany.

“Why should we have to pay money today when nobody gives us anything?” said 22-year-old Kamil Wencwel. “Americans only think about Jewish and not Polish interests.”

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

The protesters shouted “no to claims!” and “This is Poland, not Polin,” using the Hebrew word for Poland.

Rafal Pankowski, a sociologist who heads the anti-extremist group Never Again, called the march “probably the biggest openly anti-Jewish street demonstration in Europe in recent years.”

One couple wore matching T-shirts reading “death to the enemies of the fatherland,” while another man wore a shirt saying: “I will not apologize for Jedwabne” — a massacre of Jews by their Polish neighbors in 1941 under the German occupation.

Among those far-right politicians who led the march were Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Grzegorz Braun, who have joined forces in a far-right coalition standing in the elections to the European Parliament later this month. Stopping Jewish restitution claims has been one of their key priorities, along with fighting what they call pro-LGBT “propaganda.” The movement is polling well with young Polish men.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki echoed the feelings of the protesters at a campaign rally Saturday, saying that it is Poles who deserve compensation.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland at a joint news conference with Germany’s chancellor in Berlin, February 16, 2018. (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images/via JTA)

Poland was the heartland of European Jewish life before the Holocaust, with most of the 3.3 million Polish Jews murdered by occupying Nazi German forces. Christian Poles were also targeted by the Germans, killed in massacres and in concentration camps.

Many Poles to this day have a feeling that their suffering has not been adequately acknowledged by the world, while that of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust has, creating what has often been called a “competition of victimhood.”

Many of the properties of both Jews and non-Jews were destroyed during the war or were looted and later nationalized by the communist regime that followed.

The protests in Warsaw target US law S. 447, also known as the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (or JUST) Act. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump last year and requires the State Department to report to Congress on the state of restitution of Jewish property stolen in the Holocaust in dozens of countries.

Protesters said paying compensation would ruin Poland’s economy.

Poland’s governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party as well as the centrist and liberal opposition have downplayed the law, insisting that it will have no impact on Poland.

But in the run-up to elections to the European Parliament late this month, an informal alliance of several far-right and nationalist parties and groups joined forces with a farmers’ union to campaign against Jewish property restitution.

One of its leaders, Robert Bakiewicz from the far-right National-Radical Camp (ONR) called the 447 law “a threat to Poland and its security since the Jewish organizations are claiming $300 billion dollars”

Jewish organizations, particularly the World Jewish Restitution Organization, have been seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors and their families, consider compensation a matter of justice for a population that was subjected to genocide.

Poland is the only European Union country that hasn’t passed laws regulating the compensation of looted or national property, and the head of the WJRO, Gideon Taylor, noted Saturday that such property “continues to benefit the Polish economy.”

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

At least two US Confederate flags were visible at Saturday’s protest, which began with a rally in front of the prime minister’s office before the protesters walked to the US Embassy. Men in Native American headdress held a banner with a message pointing to what they see as US double standards: ‘USA, Practice 447 at home. Return stolen lands to the descendants of native tribes.”

With pressure building on this issue, the US State Department’s new envoy on anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, was in Warsaw this past week, telling leaders and media that the US is only urging Poland to fulfill a non-binding commitment it made in 2009 to act on the issue. He also said the US recognizes that Poland was a victim of the war and is not dictating how Warsaw regulates compensation.

After Auschwitz, memory is barbaric: 8 things to know for May 2

Rather than unity, Holocaust Remembrance Day presents a politicized struggle over what lessons to take from the horrors of the past to combat a bleak future

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath in honor of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 2, 2019 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath in honor of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 2, 2019 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

1. Remembering what they did: Israelis stood Thursday morning to mark two minutes of silence in remembrance of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, one of the most moving and solemn moments on a day full of them.

  • The day is one in which TV channels and radio stations broadcast almost exclusively content related to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The only songs heard are sad ones, and stories of death, destruction and rebuilding from survivors and others fill every corner.
  • The memorials began with a military-tinged ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Wednesday night, with survivors lighting candles and political leaders raising alarms about anti-Semitism still rampant in Europe and elsewhere.
  • President Reuven Rivlin used his address to warn against breaking bread with those on the European far-right who refuse to acknowledge their role in the Holocaust, saying no realpolitik considerations could justify doing so
  • The comments are seen as an implicit rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • “Rivlin leveled hinted criticism at the burgeoning ties between the Netanyahu government and those on the far-right in Europe,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports.

2. Recognizing what they want to do: Netanyahu also pointed a finger at rising anti-Semitism, but his speech focused more on hate coming from the other side of the political spectrum, mentioning the New York Times cartoon and warning Iran that Jews won’t allow themselves to be slaughtered again.

  • “Netanyahu spoke not merely with his trademark assurance, but with ferocity,” ToI’s David Horovitz writes, crediting his electoral win for the prime minister’s swagger. “Netanyahu … believes he had to win because he is certain that he, and only he, can keep this country safe and thriving in the face of its enemies.”
  • In Israel Hayom, seen as close to Netanyahu, columnists echo the takeaway that Israel needs a strong army.
  • “There is no real reason to assume [the world] would take any significant action if, heaven forbid, the existence of the Jewish people in Israel or around the world was under threat,” Nadav Shragai writes, ticking off the genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust.
  • “This is a time of emergency, and anyone who does not understand the need for a strong Israel is playing into the hands of anti-Semites, if not anti-Semitic themselves,” Eldad Beck writes in another.

3. Anti-Semitism vs. anti-Semitism: Netanyahu’s and Rivlin’s speeches accentuated the unofficial theme of this year’s commemorations, which appears to be anti-Semitism on the right vs. anti-Semitism on the left. (The official theme of commemorations at Yad Vashem this year is the struggle of Jews to meet the needs of survival during the war years.)

  • On Twitter, right-wing Channel 20 commentator Shimon Riklin writes that nobody will talk about why the Holocaust happened in Germany, “where Jews were the most progressive.”
  • The comment is criticized as the latest one by a right-wing Israeli to blame Jews for helping the spread of anti-Semitism. (Israel Hayom’s Beck also points a finger at Jews trying to “weaken” the Jewish state.)
  • In Haaretz, former Meretz head Zehava Gal-on writes that there’s enough anti-Semitism to go around for everybody, but it’s not leftists who are forming ties with European far-right parties that are outgrowths of the Nazi movement.
  • “Blaming Jews for the anti-Semitism against them is nothing new, but in the past was the bailiwick of anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers. Today, it exists within the ruling party and among intellectuals … of the new Israeli right,” she writes, connecting the argument to comments praising Hitler and sundry by rabbis at a preeminent religious Zionist yeshiva in the settlement of Eli.

4. Fight over memory: Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to forge ties with Poland, Jerusalem and Warsaw remain at loggerheads over comments made by Israeli officials that Poles took offense to earlier this year.

  • That means that this year, for the first time in years, neither Poland nor Israel are sending high level delegations to March of the Living commemorations at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
  • Tens of thousands of others make the trip though, including US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and survivor Ed Mosberg, who has become a well-known advocate for Holocaust commemoration and education.
  • At the March, Mosberg angrily denounces Israeli Minister Israel Katz for saying earlier this year that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”
  • “Unfortunately there is no medicine for stupidity,” he says, according to ToI’s Michael Bachner, reporting on the trip. “I’m talking about Israel Katz, that stupid idiot, if he could say that it shows his stupidity.
  • “I told Polish President Andrzej Duda not to come down to Israel unless he apologizes or is fired from the government,” he adds.
  • Other survivors at the March express fears that history is repeating itself.
  • “In Europe, in Canada, in the United States, anti-Semitism is back,”says Max Eisen. “It has taken on a life of its own, it’s a terrible thing.”

5. Their lies, Treblinka: Reporter Ronen Bergman, who won plaudits last year for confronting Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki over the country’s Holocaust law, writes in Yedioth that the Holocaust denial industry is still thriving in that country.

  • Bergman, who last year mentioned his mother’s experiences during the Holocaust at the hands of Poles, only to be told by Morawiecki that Poles did not commit any atrocities against the Jews, writes that Warsaw is an example of a trend in Eastern Europe not to deny the Holocaust, but to deny collaboration with the Nazis.
  • “In an attempt to create a history they can be proud of, Eastern European politicians are fanning the most primitive urges and writing a new one,” he writes. “Many in Poland believe that the Jews were linked to the Nazis at first, that many of the Nazi leaders, including Hitler, were Jews, and they helped destroy the Poles.”

6. They don’t know: It’s not only the Poles who might not know what happened.

  • A study released Thursday by the Claims Conference finds that 56 percent of Austrians did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and 36% believed that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed.
  • “The results were deeply disturbing because it reflects really a distortion of historical events as time goes on,” Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, tells USA Today, which calls the figures shocking.
  • In ToI, Robert Philpot writes about a scholar’s look at various conspiracy theories surrounding Hitler’s death, some of which are still believed today.
  • The scholar, Luke Daly-Groves, notes that rumors that Hitler had survived were given extra prominence because people pointed to investigations by US and British intelligence into the matter as proof that there was something to them.
  • But Daly-Groves says, “The reason they were investigating these stories in the 1940s and 1950s was not because they believed Hitler could have escaped — it was often more because they were concerned with who was spreading these rumors and why they were doing so.”

7. When artifacts are all we have left: Much of the burden of combating Holocaust denial has been borne by survivors who can testify as to what they went through, but with the number of survivors dwindling, that job will increasingly fall to objects.

  • The Associated Press reports that Yad Vashem is increasingly focusing on artifacts from the Holocaust, dedicating a new center to archive materials collected from survivors and others.
  • “Through its ‘Gathering the Fragments’ program, Yad Vashem has collected some 250,000 items from survivors and their families in recent years to be stored for posterity and displayed online in hopes of preserving the memory of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, even after the last of the survivors has passed away,” the agency’s Aron Heller writes.
  • “By preserving these precious items … and revealing them to the public they will act as the voice of the victims and the survivors and serve as an everlasting memory,” Yad Vashem head Avner Shalev says.
  • Many of the items are letters, some written from the concentration and death camps. Haaretz writes about 12 letters put on display by the Holocaust memorial and museum, all of them from 1944, “ the year that the end of Nazi Germany could be seen on the horizon, but the destruction continued at full force.”
  • “Now, my dear, we take our leave of you. I do not know whether we will meet again in this life. Pray to the merciful God to have mercy on us, because this situation cannot be tolerated for long,” reads one letter sent by Bracha Igaz from the Bekescsaba Ghetto in Hungary to her husband Yaakov in Debrecen.
  • The paper notes that the letter was sent on the day the ghetto was wiped out, and the words were Igaz’s last.

8. If this is a memorial: Some in Israel are criticizing the way the country chooses to commemorate the Holocaust.

  • JTA’s Hen Mazzig asks why Middle Eastern Jews are ignored in remembrances, given pogroms by Nazi-backed mobs in Iraq and actual Nazis killing Jews in northern Europe.
  • “I hope that one day Mizrahi children in Israel and around the world will learn about our trauma and what happened to our community during the Holocaust. That they will find a place to deal with our tragic memory of our community and our history,” he writes. “Learning these stories will not diminish the memory of the Holocaust. It is only when Mizrahim are invited to fully be a part of the communal mourning, and only when we are heard, that all Jews will be able to truly mourn together.”
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Klein writes that the state’s attempts to nationalize mourning have been hollow and not served the memory of the victims or those who should be educated about what happened.
  • “Holocaust Remembrance Day doesn’t belong in our current reality. The dead are forgotten, the survivors abandoned. The lessons have not been learned. Racism is flourishing and hatred is winning. As if the Holocaust never happened,” he writes.
  • In an open letter to his grandparents, however, former minister Shai Piron defends the way Israel commemorates the day.
  • “We are not ignoring the horror but we emphasize hope. We did not forget the past but we are committed to the future,” he writes in Yedioth. “We did not tire of the story; the opposite, we dressed it in new clothes and turned it into a lifeline.”


Mayor Yiannis Boutaris of Thessaloniki is to pay tribute to the Greek Jews deported by the Nazis in World War II.

Members of a pioneer youth movement, shown in a Ghetto Fighter's House Musem exhibition.

Members of a pioneer youth movement, shown in a Ghetto Fighter’s House Musem exhibition.. (photo credit: COURTESY GHETTO FIGHTERS’ HOUSE MUSEUM ARCHIVES)

Yiannis Boutaris, mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece is scheduled to visit the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum in kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot for Yom HaShoah.

Greek Jews who lived in Thessaloniki were deported to death camps when the Nazis invaded. Boutaris is seeking to strengthen ties with Israel and the Jewish world, and the city is in the process of building a Holocaust museum.
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The museum is to be built near the old railway station from which the Jews were deported to camps in Auschwitz and other places. Histrionically, Thessaloniki prided itself on its multiculturalism, being home to Jews, Christians and Muslims for generations. Only about 4% of the city’s Jewish community, mostly of Sephardic origin, survived World War II.
The Ghetto Fighters’ House will host closing ceremonies for the Yom HaShoah – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day on Thursday. Both the museum and kibbutz, located in northern Israel, were founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors, particularly those that fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Yom HaShoah’s date was chosen to commemorate the dramatic resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazi regime.

The museum, along with the Chamber of the Holocaust on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion were founded about a year after Israel became independent from the British and pre-date the Yad Vashem national Holocaust center.

Those who will be honored with lighting the six memorial torches will be Tunisian-born Shlomo Richard Almog who survived a forced labor camp when the Nazis invaded North Africa, Slovenian-born Avery Fisher and Shimon Almog Huter both of whom lived with Catholic families under assumed identities, Wolf & Shlomo Galperin, leaders of the “131 Kovno Children” group, Hungarian-born Esther Cohen who survived the Mauthausen death camp, and Prof. Yoram Harpaz, the son of Holocaust survivors and author of a book about “second generation” children.

Israeli singer Nathan Goshen will perform at the ceremony in the presence of IDF Commander of the Northern Command, Major General Amir Baram and others.

The museum will be free and open to the public throughout the day.

‘Jews once again unsafe,’ Jewish Agency’s Herzog warns at March of the Living

Over 10,000 march at Auschwitz to commemorate Holocaust victims, including youth, survivors and political leaders from 41 countries

Jewish youth from all over the world visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland a day before the March of the Living on May 1, 2019 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Jewish youth from all over the world visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland a day before the March of the Living on May 1, 2019 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU, Poland — As over 10,000 people joined in the 2019 International March of the Living on Thursday afternoon in the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog warned that “Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe.”

The annual march coincides with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) and marks the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust.

“It is inconceivable that 74 years after that wretched war, Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe. Jews cannot be murdered in Pittsburgh and San Diego or anywhere. Let us heed the warning and take to heart the lessons of the Holocaust. World leaders must unite with zero tolerance for hate crimes, of any kind,” he added.

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog speaks during the main ceremony of the March of the Living, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp at Oswiecim, Poland, May 2, 2019. (March of the Living feed screen capture)

A delegation led by senior officials from around the world joined the three-kilometer walk to the Birkenau death camp, where the central ceremony was held. Youth groups from 41 countries participated in the march, according to organizers.

At the ceremony, participants stood at attention when a commemoration siren sounded, a custom brought from Israel, where a nationwide siren on the morning of Yom Hashoah commemorates those who died in the Holocaust.

This year’s march in Poland comes amid rising anti-Semitism worldwide and organizers said the commemorations are meant to send a resounding rejection of Jew-hatred.

“We are here to say in a clear voice: ‘Never again.’ We march to remind the world of the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust and to lead a global movement to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms,” Shmuel Rosenman, the founder and co-chairman of March of the Living, said in a statement.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also spoke at the ceremony.

“There are no words. I have no words to capture the pain, the anger, the sadness, the horror that I feel now at this solemn site,” he said.

“Even if I had the words, they would be drowned out by the shrieks, the cries, the shouts, the agony of the victims in this death camp that have never been silenced, and that are amplified right now, right here, this afternoon.”

He promised that the United States would “give no quarter” to anti-Semitism “anywhere on this planet,” and called Israel “a force for good in the world and a powerful reminder that Jewish life, like all human life, can, will and must be defended from the tyrannical, hate-filled regimes that threaten us.”

Herzog’s speech related the experience of his father Chaim, a future president of Israel, who served in the war as an officer in the British army and was among the liberators of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“He crossed the River Rhine in one of the most challenging battles of the war, and reached the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945,” Herzog said. “As a young British officer he walked towards the living skeletons and said to them in Yiddish: ‘I am a Jew, I am from Eretz Israel, and I came to rescue you.’ However, some of them thought that he was actually manipulating them, as Nazis did throughout the period. A few days later, on Friday evening, he led the prayers for those who survived the horror,” Herzog related.

No senior Israeli government officials took part in this year’s march, though former chief rabbi Israel Lau and Herzog joined it. Also attending were Friedman and Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, among others.

This Couple’s Goal Is to Photograph Every Living Holocaust Survivor



At first, it seems like John and Amy Israel Pregulman nailed the ideal “digital nomad” lifestyle. The very-much-in-love couple travels the and country and the world, side-by-side, working for an organization they built, together, from the ground up.

“Every day we wake up and go, ‘We can’t believe we’re getting to do this,’” Amy tells me from the passenger seat of the car, as the couple is en route to Boulder from their home in Denver.

But here’s the thing: The Pregulmans don’t have a tech startup, nor are their adventures spent scouring markets for handmade textiles or artisanal cheese. They’re not social media influencers. Instead, their project takes to the homes of people who are often overlooked: elderly Holocaust survivors.

KAVOD, the organization founded by the couple, has an impressive, twofold mission. The first is to photograph every living Holocaust survivor before they die. The second: to help Holocaust survivors living in poverty with emergency assistance that helps them get food on the table and the medicine they need, among other things.

“It’s very privileged work,” says Amy, 49, the organization’s sole paid employee. “It’s a privilege to meet them, it’s a privilege to hear their stories and be a witness, and it’s a privilege to be able to make a small impact in their lives. And work together to be able to do that — it’s so unique.”

So far, John, 61, has photographed nearly 800 survivors, and together, KAVOD has helped more than 1,000 survivors with donations. As of February, their work has taken them to 37 cities, including Prague, Krakow, and Tokyo.

KAVOD is a Hebrew word that means “respect” and that value is deeply ingrained in everything the organization does, from how John takes the pictures, to how they distribute their donations.

“You meet this incredible, positive, happy, accomplished people who overcame horrible experiences in most of their childhood or their teenage years, and, in the beginning, I would take the photos in black and white,” John says. “And they would say to me, ‘That really is kind of stark, and it makes us look sad, it doesn’t portray us the way we want to look.’”

And so, John started taking the photos in color. Since he thought a large, professional camera would intimidate his subjects, he decided to use a simple Sony digital camera. He also opts to have his subjects comfortably sitting, illuminated by natural light.

KAVOD started five years ago, when John, who is originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was asked by a friend to photograph survivors at the Holocaust museum in Skokie, Illinois. For the former professional photographer, the connection with his subjects was immediate: He photographed 65 survivors in the span of three days. He decided to make this a passion project, going around the country and taking photos of survivors.

But the story of KAVOD is also, quite wonderfully, a love story. It was through this project that John and Amy met and fell in love.

One day, John was contacted by friends who lived in Memphis. Their father was a Holocaust survivor, and though he had never spoken about his experience to anyone, including his family, he wanted John to take his portrait. “All of the sudden, he opened up to his children about everything,” John says.

John’s friends were also friends with Amy, and arranged for the pair to meet. And so, as John’s friends got the gift of learning their father’s story for the first time, he got the gift of meeting his bashert.

“We started KAVOD in November of 2015, we got married in September 2016,” says John. “So this has really been a wonderful thing to grow this organization, as we grow together as a couple.” The couple has six children from previous relationships between them, who they say are very supportive of their parents’ work.

The charitable aspect of the organization was a natural outgrowth of the photo project. “In the beginning, we would mostly go into people’s home to take their pictures,” John says. “Inevitably, after you take an elderly lady’s picture she wants to give you something to eat, like your grandmother would.”

One time, while visiting a survivor in Orlando, “When she took me to her refrigerator, there was nothing there really,” he says. “She said, ‘I had to fix my air conditioner, so I used my grocery money for that and I’m just doing without.’”

For John and Amy, the idea was unacceptable. They soon found out that one-third of Holocaust survivors are living in poverty, according to Blue Card. In fact, 61 percent of the 100,000 survivors in the United States live on less than $23,000 annually.

Many survivors get a monthly payment, from claims conference or social security, but when they have an emergency expense, it blows their budget and they have nothing to fall back on. So they end up using the money they would normally use for medicine or food.

“And so we decided that, for KAVOD, we wanted to give emergency, confidential aid to survivors who have a quick need,” says John.

They decided to disperse the money through gift cards to Target and other stores, “because anyone could go into a grocery store with a gift card and no one would make them feel like they were different,” according to Amy.

There are only three things that John and Amy need to know before they send aid: what the situation is, whether the person is a survivor, and how much money they need. The organization’s board usually sends the money within three days. “We understood that the process for getting funding and aid across the board was so complicated for them,” says Amy,” so we really wanted it to be simple.”

Though they may have streamlined the aid process, that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to bear witness to their subjects’ harrowing testimonials.

“There are days where it’s uplifting, you understand how important it is to bear,” says Amy, “and there are days when I go back to our hotel and I can’t move.”

“We read a lot,” John adds. “I’ve decided that the only books I’m reading these days are books about survivors we’ve met.”

Amy points out that John’s relationships with his subjects extend far beyond the photo shoot. “He stays in touch with a lot of the survivors,” she says. “He’s just that guy who is a connector, and it comes out in every way, including the photos.”

With the recent rise of nationalism and anti-Semitism around the world, John and Amy feel like they work is more important than ever. The couple — who visits a different place almost every week for their work — have no thoughts of slowing down. They’re planning a visit to Israel to take pictures of survivors there this summer.

“We will continue to do this as long as there are survivors,” says John. “We’ve got 10 or 15 more years, and we’re not thinking of it beyond that.”