Nazis’ aerial photography is helping map and preserve Jewish cemeteries

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Photographers capture a ceremony at a Jewish cemetery in Frampol, Poland. (ESJF)

LUBLIN, Poland (JTA) — When German air force pilots took aerial photographs of western Ukraine in 1941, they did it to help Nazi Germany defeat the Soviet Union in a war that saw the genocide of 6 million Jews.

But in a twist of fate, the German government has recently started funding an effort that uses the photographs to identify and preserve Jewish cemeteries.

The effort, in which the Luftwaffe archives are only one of several ingenious tools, began in 2015 with the establishment of an organization called the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, or ESJF. The largest-ever international project of its kind, ESJF has since fenced more than 100 Jewish cemeteries in seven countries on a modest annual budget of approximately $1 million.

And in Eastern Europe, fencing Jewish cemeteries is “not as straightforward as it may sound,” according to Philip Carmel, a British former journalist, the organization’s CEO since its creation.

Even determining the location of such graveyards can be challenging in towns with entire Jewish populations that were murdered and cemeteries plundered for construction material and then stolen for development.

That’s where the Luftwaffe aerial photographs enter the picture, Carmel said.

“Obviously they were taken to help the German war effort,” Carmel said of the prints and negatives that he pulled from German state archives. “But they were accurate enough to help us identify some Jewish cemeteries right before the destruction.”

In the western Ukrainian town of Buchach — the birthplace of the Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal — Jews for generations buried their dead atop a mound that in 1941 stood on the town’s northern margins.

But after the murder of the area’s 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust, the forest adjacent to the cemetery was allowed to swallow it up, leaving exposed only a few dozen headstones. Fragments of others used to lie in piles on the shoulders of the potholed asphalt road that snakes along Buchach’s Torgova Street.

The forest’s progression and the destruction caused to the headstones – locals throughout Eastern Europe steal them to use as sharpening stones or building material – complicated efforts to map the cemetery. The Luftwaffe aerials show its borders clearly, explained Carmel, who last year oversaw its demarcation. It is now set for fencing later this year, complete with retaining walls.

Jewish communities in Eastern Europe are struggling to maintain crumbling heritage sites from the prewar era. (ESJF)

ESJF recently began using engineering drones that can map a Jewish cemetery in a fraction of the time and cost that a team of surveyors would require.

Fencing is crucial, Carmel said, because it prevents further damage. While it neither helps restore damage nor prevent people who are determined to get in from climbing the fence, “It shows ownership, it indicates interest and it vastly reduces the chance of vandalism,” he said.

Jewish communities in Eastern Europe are struggling to maintain crumbling heritage sites from an era when the local Jewish population was many times greater than it is today, as are activists working to preserve Jewish cemeteries.

But ESJF is the best-funded and first international effort of its kind, active in an area with well over 10,000 Jewish cemeteries in various degrees of risk. And it is by far the most transparent, as per stringent reporting demands by the German treasury.

Whereas the bulk of the damage to Jewish cemeteries happened during World War II and under communism, they are still being degraded today at an alarming rate due to unregulated construction and vandalism.

Earlier this month, the construction of a state-funded sports complex in the town of Klimontow, Poland, was completed atop what activists say was a disused Jewish cemetery. Last year, a judge in Belarus cleared the way for the construction of apartments atop two former Jewish cemeteries in Gomel. And in Lithuania, the government is ignoring an international outcry over its plan to build a conference center on what used to be one Vilnius’ largest cemeteries, which the communists razed.

About a quarter of all Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe were destroyed during the Nazi and Soviet periods, according to Rabbi Isaac Schapira, the Israel-based founder and chairman of the ESJF board.

“Most of those that have remained lie neglected principally because their communities were wiped out in the Holocaust,” he said.

This is also the reason the German government decided to bankroll ESJF, according to Carmel.

As a rule, ESJF does not get involved in cemeteries featuring a legal or territorial dispute, like the ones in Klimontow, Gomel or Vilnius.

“Our objective is to fence as many Jewish cemeteries as possible in as little time as possible for the lowest cost,” Carmel said.

Instead of duking it out with local authorities and developers, ESJF tries to find compromises.

On a recent project, ESJF even purchased a small and cheap plot of land in a small Ukrainian town so it could serve as a Christian cemetery. It was the simplest way of getting the local Orthodox church, which did not want to bury Seventh-day Adventists in its Christian cemetery, to stop burying them atop older graves at a disused Jewish cemetery, Carmel said.

When it comes to halachah, or Jewish law, ESJF is strict in observing its rules on burial, Carmel said. But whenever possible, he said, the organization tries to compromise, keeping with its view that local partnerships are the only guarantee for the organization’s long-lasting impact.

“The cemeteries we fence, they are not being guarded,” Carmel said. “Ultimately the only way of making sure these places don’t get destroyed is to get the local population to think of their local Jewish cemetery as part of their own heritage.”

One success has been in Frampol, Poland, where dozens of schoolchildren joined ESJF’s fencing and cleanup of the local Jewish cemetery.

Another is the story of Katy Kryvko, a 17-year-old high school student from the Ukraine village of Derazhne, located about 100 miles north of Buchach. Two years ago Kryvko, who is not Jewish, contacted ESJF about a Jewish cemetery behind her home that the local children used as a playground.

“I was shocked when I realized that kids are playing literally at the cemetery,” she told JTA. “I didn’t understand why it was neglected and nobody cared about it.”

Her interest in the cemetery led Kryvko to study the tragic history of the region’s Jewish population, and to ESJF, which cleaned it up and fenced it last year.

“It’s so important for me because I know that I’m the only one person who can save the cemetery,” she said. “I mean, who can take care of it.”


This Holocaust survivor is pushing schools to teach students about genocide

By Spencer Parlier and Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

(CNN)He was the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. Now Alter Wiener is committed to sharing his story with as many young people as he can.

The 92-year-old sat in front of the Oregon State Senate Education Committee this week to share his deep desire to educate, inspire and spread love throughout America.
“Be better, rather than bitter,” Wiener said.
His first big step is to convince Oregon state legislators to create and pass a bill that would mandate educators to teach students about the Holocaust and genocide.
Holocaust remembrance has fallen, especially in younger generations. A 2018 survey from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22% of millennials “haven’t heard” or “are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.”
The survey also found that 31% of all Americans believe that 2 million Jews or less were killed during the Holocaust, when the actual numbers state that approximately 6 million Jews were put to death during the Holocaust.
Wiener was one of the few who survived. His tumultuous life included spending three years in concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz camp in Poland.
He has received approximately 88,000 letters in response to his life story, whether it was from people who heard him speak or read his autobiography.
Alter Wiener as a young boy, in a concentration camp.

Alter Wiener as a young boy, in a concentration camp.

“Each time I hear (Alter Wiener’s) story, walking away, I learn a different lesson — gratitude, love, appreciation, respect, compassion and most importantly, live life to the absolute fullest,” Sarnowski told the state Senate committee, holding back tears.
Claire Sarnowski speaks to the Oregon Education Committee.

Claire Sarnowski speaks to the Oregon Education Committee.

Wiener has made strides to change the law, and has met with nearly 1,000 groups to share his story.
Alter Wiener  addresses a group of students at River Grover Elementary School in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Alter Wiener addresses a group of students at River Grover Elementary School in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

State Sen. Rob Wagner told CNN he is currently working on draft legislation regarding Wiener’s request. He hopes to introduce it in late January.
Not only was Wagner motivated by Wiener, who he describes as a “bright light” and “sharp as a tack,” he was also struck by some of the things his daughters saw in school.
“Where my children are in school, there were swastikas and anti-Jewish posters that were plastered in our schools,” Wagner told CNN. “That precipitated a conversation with my children, and really was (what lead to) the decision that I wanted to run to help change the culture in our schools.”
The state senator hopes his bill will become a statute in May 2019.
“If we’re teaching the history of the 20th century, we should not be glossing over the Holocaust,” Wagner said.
If passed, Oregon would join 10 states in the United States that have similar mandates. Some of those states are California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, and New York.

Legendary French singer Charles Aznavour dies aged 94

Family of ‘French Sinatra’ were heroes of Resistance against Nazi occupation of France in World War II; Israel honored him last year for their efforts to protect Jews and others

  • French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour poses during a photo session in Paris on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET)

    French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour poses during a photo session in Paris on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET)

  • President Reuven Rivlin (L) presents French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour the Raoul Wallenberg medal on October 26, 2017, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

PARIS (AFP) — The legendary French singer Charles Aznavour — who said last week that he dreamed of breathing his last on stage — has died aged 94, his spokeswoman said.

The songwriter, who had just returned from a concert tour of Japan last month, passed away in his home in Alpilles in southeastern France.

But as late as Friday the diminutive singer told French television that though his Swedish-born wife wanted him to stop touring, he would happily die on stage.

“I always go forwards,” said the performer who tried to write a song every day. “There is no backwards step with me.

“All I can do is live, and I live on stage. I am happy up there, and you can see that,” he added.

The singer had planned to go back on tour later this month, starting with a concert in Brussels on October 26.

He was scheduled to play in Tel Aviv next July, having played a hugely successful concert there last year. On that visit, he was honored in Israel for his family’s efforts to protect Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. He received the honor from President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke of his love of Aznavour’s music, saying “La Boheme” was his favorite song.

President Reuven Rivlin is seen with French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour on October 26, 2017, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

President Reuven Rivlin is seen with French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour on October 26, 2017, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Rivlin presented him with The Raoul Wallenberg Award, named for the Swedish diplomat who helped thousands of Jews flee Nazi-controlled Hungary during World War II. Aznavour’s family “hid a number of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, while Charles and his sister Aida were involved in rescue activities,” Rivlin’s office said.

“We have so many things in common, the Jews and the Armenians, in misfortune, in happiness, in work, in music, in the arts and in the ease of learning different languages and becoming important people in the countries where they have been received,” Aznavour said at the time.

Multilingual and a tireless traveler, Aznavour was named “Entertainer of the Century” by CNN in 1998 because of his immense global popularity.

In the English-speaking world he was often dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra, but unlike the American crooner, he wrote his own songs, often breaking taboos about marriage, homosexuality and men talking about their emotions.

Born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian in Paris on May 22, 1924, to parents who had fled the genocide of ethnic Armenians as the Ottoman empire fell, Aznavour sold more than 180 million records in a career spanning eight decades and as many languages.

Family of Resistance heroes

His family were heroes of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, regularly risking death to hide Communist partisans in their tiny Paris apartment.

Aznavour got his big break after the war when he opened for the then rising French star Edith Piaf.

Piaf took him to America as her manager and songwriter while he worked on his voice, and urged him to get a nose job — advice he at first resisted.

He had his first number one hit in 1956 with “Sur Ma Vie” (In My Life). That was followed by one of his biggest hits, “Je M’voyais Deja” (It Will Be My Day).

In this file photo taken on January 20, 1982 French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour (R) talks with French actor Michel Serrault (C) and director Claude Chabrol in Concarneau, on the set of the film "Les fantome du chapelier". (AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE PREVEL)

In this file photo taken on January 20, 1982 French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour (R) talks with French actor Michel Serrault (C) and director Claude Chabrol in Concarneau, on the set of the film “Les fantome du chapelier”. (AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE PREVEL)

But it was his leading role in Francois Truffaut’s film “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960 that catapulted Aznavour to international fame.

Buoyed by its success he took New York’s Carnegie Hall by storm in 1963 before touring the world and seeing his songs recorded by stars from Ray Charles to Liza Minnelli and Fred Astaire.

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls was among the first leaders to react to his death, praising “this son of Armenian immigrants who became one of the greatest and most beautiful symbols of French brilliance.

“Adieu and thank you,” he tweeted.


Why this Christian Tory peer leads the fight in the UK against Holocaust denial

Ahead of the Conservative Party’s conference, newly appointed Baron Eric Pickles warns that Corbyn’s Labour leadership harms Britain — domestically and internationally

LONDON — The British Labour party has become “a hotbed of bigotry and racism,” the country’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.

Eric Pickles, who was appointed to the House of Lords this summer, also accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of encouraging “something rather base and horrid to come to the surface” in the party.

Pickles also says it was “utterly wrong” for Conservative members of the European parliament to oppose censuring the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán in a September 12 vote. Orbán’s government has been accused of deploying “vivid anti-Semitism” in its campaign against the Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

As the Conservative party begins its annual conference in Birmingham this weekend, Pickles launches a scathing attack on Corbyn.

Referring to the allegations of anti-Semitism which have dogged Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, Pickles asks: “How can anybody live with themselves with this great damage that they have inflicted on good community relations in this country?”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn waves to delegates after giving his keynote speech on the final day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, north west England on September 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF)

Mocking Corbyn’s much-professed opposition to racism, Pickles labels him “maybe… the world’s most unlucky fighter of anti-Semitism.”

“He sees murals but doesn’t properly look at things. He signs up to things but didn’t properly read them. He’s in the room with people who advocate the murder of all Jews and didn’t entirely raise it,” Pickles says. “It’s happened too many times for him not to realize the damage he is doing and for him not to do something about it.”

“And because it’s [Corbyn], he’s encouraged something rather base and horrid to come to the surface. His supporters are chanting anti-Semitic slogans, monstering Jewish Labour MPs on the internet because they think they’re doing their master’s bidding,” says Pickles, who is a committed Christian.

Kalen Ockerman's mural 'The Enemy of Humanity' (photo credit: YouTube screen shot)

Kalen Ockerman’s mural ‘The Enemy of Humanity,’ which uses anti-Semitic imagery. (photo credit: YouTube screen shot)

“If you’d said to me five years ago that this was possible, that a mainstream political party would not be able to cope with members that are anti-Semitic, I would have laughed at you,” he adds. “But here we are now. The British Labour party of all places to be a hotbed of bigotry and racism. It’s beyond belief.”

Ticking off a list of former Labour prime ministers, Pickles argues: “I can’t imagine Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, [Tony] Blair or [Gordon] Brown condoning any of this.”

Pickles welcomes the news that the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force, is now investigating whether any Labour party members have committed hate crimes.

“People who are anti-Semitic, who make their fellow citizens worried, should face the full consequences of the law,” he says.

As a Cabinet minister, Pickles ran the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is partly responsible for social cohesion in the UK. Referring to polling which suggests that nearly 40 percent of British Jews would seriously consider emigrating if Corbyn becomes prime minister, he says he finds it “immensely depressing that some people could be made to feel that they no longer belong to their own country.”

“A Jewish person at the beginning of the 21st century should not feel worried about appearing in public in obvious Jewish [clothing], or to shop in Jewish shops and wonder if they’re going to be safe,” Pickles argues. “Or feel that their politicians don’t regard them as anything other than people who have been born, brought up in this country and are an essential part of this country that makes it tick.”

From left to right: Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad, Sir Eric Pickles, Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust, The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis, Mark Regev, Ambassador of Israel to the UK, at a Holocaust commemoration on January 23, 2018. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

After leaving the government in 2015, Pickles was chosen by Cameron as Britain’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues. This year, Theresa May appointed him to the House of Lords and asked him to also take on the role of co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation advisory board.

As an MP he served as chair of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), and will now lead the group in the UK’s upper chamber of parliament (the group’s chair in the Commons is now the former Cabinet minister and Tory leadership contender Stephen Crabb).

Pickles’s relationship with the Jewish community is so close that when he was in the Cabinet, the Jewish Chronicle affectionately dubbed him “the Tories’ de facto minister for Jews.” At a reception marking his elevation to the House of Lords, congratulatory messages from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis were read out.

Vote against Orbán censure ‘utterly wrong’

Although fiercely critical of Labour, Pickles does not shy away from criticism of his own party.

He is dismayed by the decision of the Conservatives to defend Hungary’s controversial right-wing government in a key vote in the European parliament earlier this month.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “very concerning” that the Tories had chosen to back Orbán’s government, which it accused of “whipping up prejudice” and deploying “vivid anti-Semitism.”

Member of European Parliament Judith Sargentini (C) votes on the situation in Hungary during a voting session at the European Parliament on September 12, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN)

“I got an explanation from a colleague who is a member of the European parliament which went to about six paragraphs explaining exactly why they had voted against the resolution on technical grounds,” says Pickles. “My view is very straightforward: if you require six paragraphs to explain why you’ve done something, then you’ve made a mistake.”

“To vote against seemed to me utterly wrong,” he adds.

Pickles also makes clear his unease at the failure of the British government to fully proscribe the terror group Hezbollah. At present, the UK only bans the military wing of the group, leaving its political wing free to operate in the country. Its position has allowed anti-Israel protesters to paradeHezbollah flags on the streets of London at the annual Al Quds Day march in June.

“I can’t get into the mindset as to why we don’t [ban Hezbollah]. We should do this. There’s no difference between the political wing and the military wing,” argues the former minister.

“Of course it should be proscribed and the government should do it without delay. I’ve always felt there was a strong political will to do this and I’m hopeful that we may see this happen this year,” he says.

An announcement may indeed come as early as early October when the pro-Israel Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, addresses the Conservative party conference.

Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)

Pickles has been a vocal critic of warming ties between Britain and Iran and sounded a note of caution when then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond visited Tehran in 2015 to reopen the UK Embassy in the Islamic Republic.

“I was very critical and I remain so. We need to understand that Iran is an exporter of terror, a fundraiser for terror and is a destabilizing influence in a very destabilizing region,” Pickles says.

Alongside other European states, Britain has been attempting to shore up the Iran nuclear deal following the Trump administration’s abandonment of it earlier this year.

“If the Iran deal is to be saved, it would seem to me to be sensible to get some assurances about that terror,” argues Pickles. “I was critical of the deal and don’t share the [UK] government’s enthusiasm for saving it.”

The ‘magic’ of Israel

Pickles first visited Israel in 1980 when he led a delegation of Young Conservatives.

“To tell you the truth,” he says, “I just kind of fell in love with the place. It was such an open society.”

Eric Pickles waters a tree in Israel with the Jewish National Fund. (Conservative Friends of Israel)

He has visited the country countless times since with groups and believes that on each trip, whether it be with “a young politician, a seasoned statesman, [or] a councilor,” there is a “magic moment” when somebody says, “This place is pretty normal, isn’t it?”

“And that’s exactly right. It’s a place that most people would feel at home,” says the straight-talking Yorkshireman, for whom normalcy and feeling at home are high accolades.

Growing up in the highly diverse city of Bradford in northern England, Pickles says different religions, communities and cultures have always interested him, and he cut his political teeth in the Tories’ youth wing opposing the far right and campaigning against racism.

He ascribes his close relationship with the Jewish community, though, to his support for Israel.

“My feelings towards Israel have meant that I’ve met a lot of Jewish people in this country. The two things are kind of related,” Pickles believes.

He worries that a Corbyn government would cause huge damage to the UK’s relationship with Israel, with consequences many Britons do not fully appreciate.

“People talk about our involvement in defense with Israel and Israel is a solid ally in a very unstable region,” Pickles argues. “But more important in my eyes is the damage that would be done to cooperation in the National Health Service where so many of the patents on our medicines comes from Israel. Our cooperation on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia [and] our cooperation in cardiothoracic work would all be put in jeopardy.”

He believes many in the UK don’t recognize “how integrated Britain and Israel are at the high end of technology.”

“Most people navigate using Israeli-sourced innovation technology,” he says.

A retail politician to his fingertips, Pickles says CFI’s job is “try and get [out] the reality of what Israel’s relationship with the UK truly is.” The group, he says, has thus “moved out from foreign affairs [and] defense and into health and into industry and making that case.”

Eric Pickles, Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues speaking at the Commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day event, January 23, 2018. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Pickles’ other priority is to help counter lack of knowledge in the UK about the Holocaust. As co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation advisory board, he is working alongside the former Labour Shadow Cabinet minister Ed Balls on overseeing the planned memorial and learning center that will be built next to the Houses of Parliament.

While the number of Britons who would deny the existence of the Holocaust is “a tiny, tiny minority,” Pickles believes, there is a more of a problem with people who “compare the Holocaust with what is happening in Israel right now with [the] Palestinians.” He deems this a “kind of casual” form of Holocaust denial, “trying to trivialize the actual numbers.”

He hopes the new learning center will provide an accessible “what happened” account of the Holocaust, but it will tell the story from a British perspective, promising that “it’s going to show things that we did right and things we did wrong.”

“It will include things like the Kindertransport, but it will also explain that the reason for the Kindertransport is that we wouldn’t let parents in,” Pickles says.

“It will talk about the liberation of Belsen but it will also talk about the blockade of [British Mandate] Palestine. It will talk about internment [of Jewish refugees] in the Isle of Man. It will talk about anti-Semitism and appeasement. It will talk about instances of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom during the Second World War,” he says.

Such an approach may make some uncomfortable, but Pickles argues that it is crucial for the UK to take a lead.

“At a time when there are parts of central Europe trying to rewrite their history, then it is massively important that we look at our history with unblinking eyes if we’re wanting them to do the same,” he says.


Ex-Nazi soldier loses final appeal to keep Canadian citizenship

MONTREAL (JTA) — A former Nazi who lied to enter Canada decades ago lost his appeal to keep his citizenship and faces deportation.

Canada’s Federal Court ruled Thursday that it was “reasonable” that Helmut Oberlander, 94, of Waterloo, Ontario, be stripped of his citizenship.

It was the first time Oberlander lost an appeal in four tries since 2001, when the Canadian government first ruled to revoke his citizenship.

Oberlander was appealing a decision made in July 2017.

Oberlander was an interpreter for the Einsatzkommandos, mobile killing squads that targeted Jews in the former Soviet Union during World War II, although he was never charged himself with killing Jews.

“This is a very positive decision from the court,” said David Matas, legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. “The federal government must now take the next step towards removing Oberlander from Canada immediately.”

An ethnic German born in Ukraine, Oberlander claims to have been a low-level interpreter for the Einsatzkommandos who was conscripted under duress, that he never took part in killings and he would have been shot had he tried to escape.

He served with the squad as an interpreter from 1941 to 1943. He later was an infantryman in the German army.

Oberlander immigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960 without disclosing his wartime record. His case rose to prominence in 1995.


This year’s Oscar foreign film race is full of movies on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism

Christopher Lambert, right, portraying a German Nazi officer in “Sobibor.” (Courtesy of Rosiya Segondiya)

(JTA) — Russia nominated a film about the Nazi death camp Sobibor as its entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film.

“Sobibor,” a multimillion-dollar production with state funding, centers on the 1943 escape by Jewish inmates from the camp under the leadership of Russian inmates. It was one of only two such occurrences during the Holocaust, with the other happening that same year in Treblinka.

The two-hour film features Konstantin Khabenskiy, one of Russia’s best-known actors, along with an international cast as well as unusually gory visuals. It is based on historical research of the history of the camp in Poland, where SS guards and Ukrainians murdered 250,000 Jews.

The Holocaust and anti-Semitism featured in the submissions of five other European countries: The Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The Dutch submission is “The Resistance Banker,” based on the actions of Walraven van Hall, a banker who financed the resistance during Nazi occupation, including efforts to save Jews. He was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations — Israel’s title for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust – in the 1970s.

Austria’s “The Waldheim Waltz,” by the Austrian-Jewish director Ruth Beckermann, is a biographical drama about former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, and the controversy of his participation and role in the Nazi regime during World War II.

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians” tells the story of a theater director seeking a re-enactment of the barbaric massacre of thousands of Jews in Odessa by occupying Romanian troops.

Slovakia’s “The Interpreter” follows a Jewish man’s efforts to find the Nazi officer who may have killed his parents.

“Eldorado,” the Swiss submission, looks at the hardships faced by modern-day immigrants to Europe but juxtaposes their situation with the realities experienced by asylum seekers during World War II, including many Jews.

Hungary’s submission, “Sunset,” was directed by Laszlo Nemes, a Jewish-Hungarian filmmaker whose previous feature, “Son of Saul,” won the category’s 2016 Oscar. The later film is set in 1913 Budapest and follows the trials of Irisz Leiter, a newcomer to the city whose parents’ shop is burned.

“Throughout the film, Irisz and those around her make so much of her name that one wonders if the Leiters were Jewish, casting a dark shadow over” the fire, The Hollywood Reporter wrote in a review this month. “But this is never explicitly stated in the film and remains only a possibility.”

Israel’s submission is “The Cakemaker,” which centers on a German pastry maker who travels to Jerusalem in search of the wife and son of his dead lover. It is Israel’s 51st submission to the award; the country has received 10 nominations but has yet to win.

The Palestinian submission is “Ghost Hunting,” a documentary about prisoners from Israeli detention reliving their incarceration and alleged torture.


Pope to pay tribute to Holocaust victims in Vilna ghetto visit

On papal trip to Lithuania, Francis to also honor Catholics jailed for challenging the Soviet regime

Pope Francis waves at the faithful attending his weekly general audience at the Saint Peter's square, on September 19, 2018, in the Vatican. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

Pope Francis waves at the faithful attending his weekly general audience at the Saint Peter’s square, on September 19, 2018, in the Vatican. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AFP) — On Sunday, Pope Francis will pay tribute to Holocaust victims at the Vilna ghetto memorial.

Nazi Germany all but obliterated the once-vibrant Jewish community of the capital, known as the “Jerusalem of the North.”

“I believe his thoughts will also be with the Christians who saved Jews, including those who saved my family.”

Around 200,000 Lithuanian Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators under the 1941-44 German occupation — nearly the entire Jewish population.

Today there are only around 3,000 Jews left in the EU and NATO member state of 2.9 million people.

Paying tribute to those who challenged the Soviet regime

Thirty-five years ago, Father Sigitas Tamkevicius was detained and repeatedly interrogated at a KGB prison for protesting Soviet religious discrimination.

The pope will also visit the Lithuanian Catholic priest’s cell in what is now a museum in central Vilnius to pay tribute to those who challenged the Soviet regime.

Lithuanian Catholic priest, Father Sigitas Tamkevicius, during an interview on September 18, 2018 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (AFP/Petras Malukas)

“When I was sitting in that cell deep underground, if someone had told me the pope would come here… that would have been incredible,” Tamkevicius, now 79, told AFP.

“The pope’s visit to this place and tribute to the sacrifice for freedom cannot be overestimated,” he added.

After Lithuania regained independence in the 1990s, Tamkevicius was appointed an archbishop.

Back in the 1980s however, he was accused of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda for having founded and edited the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.

Founded in 1972, the underground periodical covered the repression of Catholics. In classic samizdat fashion, it was smuggled across to the West, where it was picked up by sources including Vatican Radio and Voice of America.

Arrested and imprisoned in 1983, Tamkevicius served time in Soviet labor camps, including a spell in Siberia, before his release.

“We thought that if we got more freedom for the church, it would also bring more freedom to Lithuania,” he said.

“Everybody knew that the church was fighting not only for its own rights but also for the nation’s rights.”

In this photo taken on September 7, 1993 Pope John Paul II walks past the Hill of Crosses, one of the most famous places of pilgrimage for Lithuanian Catholics, near the city of Siauliai in Lithuania. (AFP/Mladen Antonov)

Tamkevicius said he was heavily motivated by the then pope — later saint — John Paul II’s public solidarity with the “silent Church” in countries where faith was discouraged at the time.

Dissidents in Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia were also encouraged by the fact that the Vatican had refused to recognize the Soviet occupation of the trio.

The Soviets had handed Tamkevicius a 10-year jail sentence. In the end he was freed after six, in 1989, during the so-called perestroika reforms instituted by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

In this photo taken on September 9, 1993 Latvians in national costumes stand around Pope John Paul II as he blesses people after a mass in the town of Aglona, some 240 km from Riga. (AFP/Michel Gangne)

But many of those detained decades earlier never left the Vilnius prison alive. Carved into its stony walls are the names of dissidents killed there under Soviet rule.

Vilnius estimates that more than 50,000 Lithuanians died in camps, prisons, and during deportations between 1944 and 1953. Another 20,000 partisans and supporters were killed in anti-Soviet guerilla warfare.

Moral authority

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said church support for dissenting voices helped it preserve a strong moral position in the country.

“The church was one of our pillars of resistance, alongside our language, culture and songs,” she told AFP.

“We see the difficulties and challenges that the church faces in other countries but we are glad it preserved moral authority here.”

Prince William unveils statue for spy who saved Jews from Holocaust

MI6 agent Frank Foley used his cover job as a passport officer in Berlin to freely issue British visas to German Jews in the 1930s

Britain’s Prince William unveils a statue of Frank Foley, a British spy who helped save thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust, September 18, 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

Britain’s Prince William unveils a statue of Frank Foley, a British spy who helped save thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust, September 18, 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

Britain’s Prince William unveiled a statue of Frank Foley, a British spy who helped save thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

William, whose title is The Duke of Cambridge, revealed the statue last week in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands county of England.

Before the unveiling ceremony, Michael Mamelok, one of the survivors who managed to flee Berlin due to the efforts of Foley, a major from the MI6 foreign intelligence agency, told the prince his story as William sat among his family.

A statue of Frank Foley, a British spy who helped save thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust at its unveiling on September 18, 2018. (screen capture: YouTube)

Speaking to the Press Association about what the day meant to him, Mamelok said: “I’m here to honor this great man who saved my life. My daughter wouldn’t be here today — there have been 17 children directly descended from me which wouldn’t be here.”

British intelligence officer Frank Foley, who save an estimated 10,000 Jewish Germans from the Holocaust in the 1930s. (Public domain/Wikimedia)

Asked about the prince’s involvement in the ceremony, he said: “It’s an honor for him to come here and unveil Foley’s statue, and I’m delighted to be here to view that.”

The sculpture of Foley at Stourbridge’s Mary Stevens Park is appropriately low-key for a person that MI6 has said was so unassuming and quiet that many of the people he saved never knew what he had done for them. It features a bronze image of Foley sitting on a bench alongside a briefcase.

As director of the British passport office in Berlin during the 1930s, Foley freely handed out visas to Jews in Germany and sheltered several in his home.

Middle-aged, with round, owlish glasses framing a face topped by a balding head, Foley did not cut a particularly heroic figure in 1930s Berlin. Yet far from his public role as a gray paper-pusher, he served as the Berlin station chief for British intelligence until the outbreak of World War II.