Upon the 78th anniversary of Babi Yar: It was a poet’s pen rather than a soldier’s bayonet that first punctured the Iron Curtain.


When a human atrocity takes place in your figurative backyard, it is hard – if not impossible – to let go of that memory. The events which took place at Babi Yar were first obliterated physically, with cremation pyres manned by adjacent concentration camp prisoners – Jews and non-Jews – followed by other attempts to hide and disguise the site, including construction there during the Soviet era.

Yevtushenko was acquainted with the Russian-language writer Anatoly Kuznetsov, who would later write Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, and Yevtushenko asked him to take him to the site. Yevtushenko recalled to the BBC World Service on the 70th anniversary of the massacre: “What I saw was absolutely terrible – there were lots of trucks and they were unloading stinking garbage on the tens of thousands of people who were killed. I did not expect that.” He went back to his hotel and wrote the poem in under five hours.

Babi Yar – ‘grandmother’s gully’ in Ukrainian – is, surprisingly, not a remote location. It is a natural ravine in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, then the city’s outskirts near the medieval monastery of St. Cyril.

The Babi Yar atrocities followed Germany’s surprise invasion of its ally, the Soviet Union, in June 1941. Some 160,000 Jews resided in Kiev, comprising around 20% of the city’s population. German forces entered Kiev on September 19, 1941.

DURING THE first week of the German occupation, on September 24, two major explosions occurred, thought to be set off by Soviet military engineers, blasting the German headquarters. The sabotage was deemed by the Nazi commandant to be the responsibility of the Jews, and this became the pretext for retribution to murder the remaining Jews of Kiev. It also roused enormous animosity on the part of Ukrainians towards their Jewish neighbors.

According to Yad Vashem, there were still about 60,000-70,000 Jews living in the city, mostly those who could not flee: women, children, the elderly and the sick.

Wikipedia page on Warsaw death camp where 200,000 were killed was 15-year fake

Haaretz shows online encyclopedia since 2004 hosted false entry on Nazi camp complete with gas chambers where Poles were murdered; untrue claims made way onto other Wikipedia pages

Illustrative: German soldiers in Warsaw during the Nazi invasion of Poland, September 1939. (AP Photo)

Illustrative: German soldiers in Warsaw during the Nazi invasion of Poland, September 1939. (AP Photo)

A Wikipedia article describing a World War II Nazi death camp in Warsaw in which large numbers of Poles were gassed was full of falsehoods and may have been the online encyclopedia’s most enduring hoax before it was rewritten in August, an Israeli newspaper has established.

The false Wikipedia article on the “Warsaw Concentration Camp” said the facility contained gas chambers and that 200,000 people died there. Both claims are unfounded, yet they remained on the English-language Wikipedia page for most of the last 15 years, the Haaretz daily reported Friday.

There is a kernel of truth to the claims — there was a group of internment centers around the same location during the war, but it was a far cry from the “extermination camp” described in the misleading entry. The existence of the actual internment centers likely helped provide cover for the false claims, the Haaretz report said. The Wikipedia article had also claimed that the camp’s files were burned and its gas chambers blown up, leaving little evidence. Between 4,000 and 20,000 people actually died at the KL Warschau camps.

“There is no historical evidence of German gas chambers ever existing in Warsaw, and nowhere near 200,000 people died in the cluster of Nazi internment centers that did stand at the basis of the myth of KL Warschau,” Haaretz noted. It quoted Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Havi Dreifuss, a Yad Vashem expert on Poland and the Holocaust, curtly dismissing the claim of Nazi gas chambers in Warsaw as “fake history.”

The effort is part of a larger trend in Poland to distance itself from culpability in the Holocaust and portray the Polish people solely as victims of Nazi persecution, despite growing research on the depth of Polish complicity in Nazi crimes.

Politicians from Israel and Poland have long been at odds over Warsaw’s stance toward the genocide.

Warsaw has also long been at pains to state that Poland as a nation did not collaborate in the Holocaust, although individual Poles committed what the Polish ambassador to Israel described as “abominable crimes.”

Israel and Poland have seen diplomatic tensions over Polish officials’ rejection of any culpability by the nation for anti-Semitic atrocities of the past. Last year, the government introduced a controversial law that forbids blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes (though the legislation was softened following Israeli pressure to remove punitive measures).

The ruling Law and Justice Party has also campaigned heavily against Jewish Holocaust restitution claims, leading Jewish leaders to warn the debate had turned anti-Semitic. In May, thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the US Embassy to protest US pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust. It appeared to be one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times.


How the late French president Jacques Chirac started France’s reckoning with the Holocaust

VIENNA, Austria (JTA) — Jacques Chirac, the former French president who died on September 26 at age 86, had only been in office two months when, on July 16, 1995, he delivered a speech that began a vital reckoning with one of the darkest aspects of France’s recent history.

Breaking a 50-year taboo on acknowledging France’s role in the Holocaust, Chirac said that “the criminal folly of the occupiers” — including the July 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, during which 4,500 French police arrested nearly 13,000 Parisian Jews, confining them in crowded, unsanitary conditions prior to their deportation to Auschwitz — “was seconded by the French, by the French state.”

“France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum, on that day committed the irreparable,” Chirac said of the roundup. “Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.” France owes the victims “an everlasting debt.”

With these words, Chirac shattered the myth of French innocence his predecessors on the left and right of French politics, from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, had, in the name of national unity, created and nurtured for decades.

When the Nazis occupied France in June 1940, so the story went, the Republic ceased to exist. All the crimes committed on French soil — the anti-Jewish laws, the arrests, the deportations, the near-75,000 dead French Jews — were therefore the responsibility of Nazi Germany and the puppet Vichy regime, not France. To quote former French President François Mitterrand, “In 1940, there was a French state, this was the Vichy regime, it was not the Republic.”

Far from cultivating a culture of remembrance, the leaders who rebuilt France after World War II and presided over it in subsequent decades sanctioned an official culture of denial and forgetting. As late as 1992—50 years after the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup and long after Germany had begun its own process of coming to terms with the past—Mitterrand pointedly avoided acknowledging France’s role in a major speech marking the event. “The dead hear you,” Mitterrand was warned by his longtime friend Robert Badinter, the president of the Constitutional Council.

The Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld condemned Mitterrand as someone who was only “faithful to himself.” Prior to joining the French resistance in 1943, Mitterrand had been a civil servant in the Vichy regime. The urge not to remember was therefore in part self-serving.

Chirac, on the other hand, was only 11 at the time of France’s liberation in 1944. He was the first of a new generation of French leaders unencumbered by the experience of World War II. His 1995 address, Klarsfeld would say, “contained everything we hoped to hear one day.”

Chirac in general was far from an honorable man. He was a political chameleon and a hypocrite. The same politician who gave the notoriously racist “le bruit et l’odeur” speech in 1991 was the anti-racist option when he campaigned for the presidency against the far-right’s Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002. And he was corrupt, as a French court found in 2011 when it found him guilty of embezzling public funds to illegally finance his neo-Gaullist political party.

But when successive French presidents, from François Hollande (“The truth is that this crime was committed in France, by France”) to Emmanuel Macron (“It was indeed France that organized this”), speak so openly of France’s complicity in the Holocaust, they do so because of Chirac.

“To recognize the errors of the past and the errors committed by the state and not to hide the dark hours of our history, that is plainly the way to defend a vision of man, of his freedom and dignity,” he said in 1995.

A complicated figure, to say the least, this aspect of his legacy cannot be negated.


Holocaust denial not a human right, European court rules

Judges rule against German neo-Nazi politician Udo Pastoers, say his statements run counter to European Convention on Human Rights itself

Far-right paraphernalia is on sale at the "Schild und Schwert" (Shield and Sword) neo-nazi festival, in the small eastern German town of Ostritz on April 20, 2018 / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

Far-right paraphernalia is on sale at the “Schild und Schwert” (Shield and Sword) neo-nazi festival, in the small eastern German town of Ostritz on April 20, 2018 / AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL

STRASBOURG, France — Denial of the Holocaust is not a human right, a European court ruled on Thursday, throwing out a complaint by a German neo-Nazi politician.

Udo Pastoers, who served in the local parliament of the northeastern region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was convicted in Germany in 2012 after giving a speech in 2010 in which he appeared to cast doubt on whether the Holocaust really happened.

He argued his freedom of expression was violated and his right to a fair trial infringed because the judge at his appeal could not have been impartial as he was the husband of a judge who had convicted him in a lower court.

Udo Pastoers of the extreme right National Democratic Party party attends a news conference after the party’s convention in Berlin on April 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

Its judges also ruled by four votes to three that there had been no violation of the right to a fair trial.

It added an independent court of appeal panel with no links to either married judge had ultimately decided on the bias claim and had rejected it.

According to the ECHR, Pastoers in 2010 gave a speech to the local parliament where he stated that “the so-called Holocaust is being used for political and commercial purposes.”

The court said his speech “was a qualified Holocaust denial showing disdain to its victims and running counter to established historical facts.”

Building of the European Court of Human Rights in in Strasbourg, France seen on March 13, 2012. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

He “intentionally stated untruths in order to defame Jews and the persecution that they had suffered.”

Such statements “could not attract the protection for freedom of speech” offered by the European Convention on Human Rights “as they ran counter to the values of the Convention itself,” it said.

The ECHR is part of the Council of Europe, the pan-European rights body, and can be approached by citizens of its 47 member states once all legal recourse in their own country have been exhausted.

Polish minister says Jewish museum’s director ‘politicized’ it


WARSAW (JTA) — Poland’s culture minister accused the head of the country’s main Jewish museum of politicizing his institution and said it’s why the director’s tenure has not been extended.

The minister, Piotr Glinski, said Dariusz Stola, who heads the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, “runs a very aggressive politics at the museum and that “did great harm to this institution by politicizing it.”

Stola made his remarks Tuesday during a radio interview.

In May, a search committee recommended keeping Stola, who became director a year after the museum opened to acclaim in 2013. The Culture Ministry has not yet said whether it will accept the recommendation.

Last year, the museum organized an exhibition on the anti-Semitic campaign of March 1968, as a result of which several thousand Jews left Poland. The exhibition also showed examples of contemporary anti-Semitism.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Stola said he has been criticized by both the right and left: the “marginal left” because the museum “did not sufficiently highlight the history of anti-Semitism in Poland” and the “marginal right” demanded more stories about Poles who rescued Jews.



Convicted Nazi who escaped justice dies in Germany at 96

Karl Muenter, who was part of SS unit that massacred 86 Frenchmen in Ascq, denied killing anyone, but defended the shooting; was charged earlier this year for disputing Holocaust

Former Nazi SS soldier Karl Muenter, convicted of killing 86 civilians in France during World War II, is interviewed by the German broadcaster ARD. (YouTube screenshot)

Former Nazi SS soldier Karl Muenter, convicted of killing 86 civilians in France during World War II, is interviewed by the German broadcaster ARD. (YouTube screenshot)

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Karl Muenter, a former SS soldier who was convicted in France of a wartime massacre but who never served any time for his crimes, has died in northwestern Germany. He was 96.

Marcus Tischbier, a representative of the district mayor’s office in Nordstemmen, the village where Muenter lived, confirmed Monday that the man had died on Friday. He had no further details.

After partisans blew up a railroad line being used to shuttle German troops to Normandy, Muenter and other members of the division were ordered to arrest all males in the town. The victims, ranging from teenagers to the elderly, were lined up and shot.

But by the time he was tracked down in 2013 in the Lower Saxony village where he lived at the home of one of the great-grandson of one of the Ascq victims, the statute of limitations had passed.

A commemorative plaque in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, northern France, commemorating the April 2, 1944, World War II massacre of 86 civilians by a Nazi Germany regiment, as seen on November 13, 2017. (Denis Charlet/AFP)

In a strange twist, prosecutors in Hildesheim charged Muenter earlier this year with incitement, after he appeared on a television documentary in which he defended the shooting of the prisoners in Ascq and disputed the Nazi Holocaust.

Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and prosecutors opened their investigation after Muenter appeared on the ARD public television show in 2018.

In the documentary, he said he had not shot anyone personally in Ascq, but maintained that the killings were justified because the prisoners had tried to escape.

“If I arrest the men, then I have the responsibility for them and if they run away, I have a right to shoot them,” he said.

He also disputed the fact that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, saying “we didn’t have that many Jews here at that time, that’s already been disproved.”

ARD also reported that Muenter had close ties to neo-Nazi groups in recent years, talking to them about his experiences in the SS.

His incitement case was still pending trial when he died.

Upon learning of his death, today’s mayor of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Gerard Caudron, told the local La Voix Du Nord newspaper: “there’s another reason for me not to end up in hell, so I don’t meet him there.


600,000 letters in each Torah represent the 600,000 victims of the massacre.

New synagogues inaugurated in memory of Danube Holocaust victims

Religious leaders fill in the final letters of each newly dedicated Torah.. (photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)

BUDAPEST – “From the ashes, this community is being revived.”

These were the words of Rabbi Simcha Weiss of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

On Sunday afternoon, a bittersweet ceremony was held on the banks of the Danube River.

The Jewish community in Budapest celebrated the opening of two new synagogues and the dedication of two new Torah’s in memory of some 600,000 Hungarian Jews murdered on the banks of the river during the Holocaust.

Between December 1944 and January 1945, the Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews at the Danube River, which runs through Budapest.

The first synagogue was inaugurated in Budapest and the second in Szentendre, a small town just outside the capital city.

Referring to the Torah, Weiss stressed that “you can kill us, but our message will live on.”

“No one could destroy their neshamas (souls),” Weiss of the Jews murdered at the Danube. “There are 600,000 letters in the Torah… those killed at the Danube have now come full circle.”

Weiss made it clear that each letter of the Torahs that are being inaugurated represent each of the 600,000 murdered, and that it was truly significant that the ceremony was taking place at the place where “their neshama came to rest here… they are now resting in peace.”

He also praised the strong relationship between Israel and Hungary, and this Jewish community’s contribution to the world.

Rabbi Shlomo Koves, chief rabbi of the EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Alliance and a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, told attendees that “it was important to live and learn our own traditions,” and said these two synagogues would give Jews in Budapest and Szentendre the opportunity to do so.

“This is dedicated to the future, but we must also be proud of our traditions,” he said.

Hungarian Holocaust survivor and State Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs Concerning National Assets János Fónagy said he had no memories of the years he was in the Holocaust, and it was the Shoe memorial that “gives me memories.”

He said he was born in 1942 and “there is no one in my family to give me those memories,” adding that much of his family had been murdered during the Holocaust.
“This memorial is remembering those who did not survive and those who are missing their own personal memories,” he said. “We have duty and responsibility to remember, to respect the past, but also the future.

“The Torah is the heart of the Jews, it is the symbol of life itself,” he said, adding that it must be passed on to the next generation.

For Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, chief of the Orthodox Rabbinate of Budapest, this ceremony had special meaning. He grew emotional recalling his father, a Holocaust survivor, telling him of how he watched the killings of Jews at the Danube. He added that his father’s fake identity papers saved him from the same fate.

“It’s a privilege to be standing here today,” he said. “We are passing on the spirit of these martyrs through these Torahs.”

The Klein family told The Jerusalem Post how their father and brother had been murdered at the Danube.

Mr. Klein, who asked for his first name not to be used, became deeply emotional as he knelt down to light candles by the Shoe Memorial for the loved ones he lost.

From there, the entourage traveled to Szentendre in several buses, escorted by Police.

Leaders and community members danced through the streets of the small town as the Torah’s were brought to the newly built synagogue.

Locals and onlookers watched in awe as the dancing moved through, stopping to take pictures and some even leaning out of their windows to get a part of the action.

Koves joked that if the locals didn’t know there was a synagogue before, “now they do.”

Dancing and prayers continued for some time into the evening. As the celebrations came to a close, the shofar was blown in the spirit of Elul, Rosh Hashana and the theme of renewal.

Diary of Polish-Jewish girl murdered in Holocaust published in English

Rina Spiegel’s diary, which has been compared to Anne Frank’s, describes conditions in Nazi-occupied city of Przemysl until her death in 1942

The diarist Renia Spiegel, born in 1924 and murdered by the Nazis in 1942 (Renia Spiegel Foundation)

The diarist Renia Spiegel, born in 1924 and murdered by the Nazis in 1942 (Renia Spiegel Foundation)

JTA — Relatives of a Polish-Jewish woman who was murdered in the Holocaust published in Britain an English-language translation of the manuscript she wrote during the war.

Describing the horrors of World War II in Eastern Europe, “Renia’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust” has been compared to the diary that Anne Frank wrote in the Netherlands before she died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Born in Przemysl, in southeast Poland, Spiegel began her book when she was 15. It provides a firsthand account of bombing raids, being forced into hiding and the disappearance of other Jewish families from the Przemysl ghetto set up by the Nazis in 1942, the BBC reported.

Spiegel, who had aspired to be a poet, described falling in love for the first time with a boy named Zygmunt Schwarzer. They shared their first kiss hours before the Nazis reached her hometown.