Trump signs Holocaust property law that has angered Poland

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act requires State Department to report on steps some European countries are taking to compensate WWII victims and their heirs

US President Donald Trump during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 9, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — US President Donald Trump has signed an act that Jewish groups praise as helpful in their efforts to reclaim lost property in Poland, but which the Polish government says is discriminatory.

The White House said on Wednesday that Trump signed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today — or JUST — Act. It requires the State Department to report to Congress on what steps dozens of countries in Europe have taken to compensate Holocaust survivors or their heirs for assets seized under Nazi German and Communist rule.

The law does not give the US any powers to act against any country and does not single out Poland. But Poland is the only country in Europe that has not passed legislation to compensate former owners for assets seized in the upheavals of 20th-century European history, and Warsaw sees itself as the key target of the law.

The Nazis’ seizure of Jewish-owned property in Poland during World War II, and the murder of most of Poland’s Jewish population, was followed after the war by the Communist state’s seizure of large amounts of property that was nationalized.

Most of the original owners of that property were not Jewish.

Since the fall of communism, some claimants have regained lost property on a case-by-case basis through courts, but so far Poland has not passed comprehensive legislation regulating the process, creating a situation that has been riddled by fraud and led to a sense of injustice.

Head of the paintings department at the Louvre museum, Sebastien Allard, poses next to paintings looted by Nazis during World War II, at the Louvre museum, in Paris, January 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz says he believes that the US pressure through the JUST Act unfairly sets Jewish claimants above non-Jewish ones, creating tensions within Polish society.

He argued that Polish law treats all Polish citizens equally, whether they are from the Polish majority or from ethnic minorities that made up significant segments of prewar society — including Jews and Ukrainians.

“This position of the (US) Congress is not good because it wants some privileges for the Jews, for the Jewish community, but not for the Poles. I think that the Poles who live in the US may feel hurt by that,” Czaputowicz said in an interview with The Associated Press last week.

He recalled that there were non-Jewish Poles who fought against Nazi Germany and then settled in the United States, leaving behind property that was seized by the Communist regime.

“Their property here remains without any settlement, and nobody speaks on their behalf, only on the behalf of the Jews. That is not good because that divides our society,” Czaputowicz added.

Polish organizations have also lobbied Congress members in past months asking them to oppose the act, efforts that included a mass letter-writing campaign.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said Thursday that it was grateful to Congress for passing the act unanimously, and to Trump for signing it. “This is a powerful statement of America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in their quest for justice,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations.


Blood and mud poured on Netherlands Holocaust monument

Memorial to more than 1,200 Jews deported to their deaths from Utrecht defaced day after Memorial Day

Monument for 1239 Jewish victims from Utrecht. (CC BY-SA Kattiel, Wikimedia Commons)

AMSTERDAM — Unidentified individuals poured blood and mud on a Holocaust monument in the Netherlands shortly after the country’s national day of mourning for its war victims.

The blood was discovered shortly after the May 4 Memorial Day on the monument in Utrecht, 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Amsterdam. It features the names of more than 1,200 Jews deported to their deaths from the city, RTV Utrecht reported Wednesday. The report did not specify the source of the blood.

Police said they do not yet know how the blood got on the monument or whether the people who put it there targeted a Jewish symbol.

The Dutch Railway Museum in Utrecht in 2013 had opposed plans to erect the monument near its entrance.

The museum is built on an old train station from which the Jews were deported.


When Jewish students in America raised alarms about the Holocaust

By David Golinkin and Noam Zion

Buddy Sachs, top, and Noah Golinkin led efforts in 1943 as rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary to alert Americans about the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews. The cover of Yeshiva University’s student newspaper, The Commentator, from March 4, 1943, shows how other Jewish students responded. (Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Seventy-five years ago this month, a handful of rabbinical students in New York City helped mobilize hundreds of churches and synagogues nationwide to cry out against the Nazis’ mass murder of European Jewry.

That remarkable interfaith protest is omitted from the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new exhibit on “Americans and the Holocaust,” which explores how much Americans knew about the Nazi persecution of the Jews and how early they knew it. The students’ actions were a significant part of that story and deserve to be told.

Our fathers, the late Noah Golinkin and Buddy Sachs, together with their friend Jerome Lipnick, were students at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in late 1942 when news about the slaughter of Europe’s Jews was publicly confirmed by the Allies. The students were shocked — not only by the news of the mass killings, but by the refusal of the Roosevelt administration to do anything beyond verbally condemn the Nazis and the timidity of ultra-cautious American Jewish leaders.

So the JTS students took matters into their own hands. They organized an extraordinary Jewish-Christian interseminary conference in February 1943 to raise public awareness about the Holocaust. Hundreds of students and faculty from 13 Christian and Jewish seminaries attended, with sessions alternating between JTS and its Protestant counterpart, the nearby Union Theological Seminary. The speakers and panel participants included prominent Jewish and Christian leaders along with an array of refugee and relief experts.

The conference was an important first step, but the students didn’t stop there. Next they turned to the Synagogue Council of America, the national umbrella group for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues. At the students’ behest, the council launched a seven-week publicity campaign to coincide with the traditional period of semi-mourning between Passover and Shavuot.

A student interfaith to consider plans for the rescue of European Jewry was held at the Union Theological Seminary and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Feb. 22, 1943. (Courtesy of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

Seventy-five years ago this month, synagogues throughout the country adopted the committee’s proposals to recite special prayers for European Jewry; limit their “occasions of amusement”; observe partial fast days and moments of silence; and write letters to political officials and Christian religious leaders.

They also held memorial protest rallies, at which congregants wore black armbands designed by Golinkin — three decades before Vietnam War protesters would adopt a similar badge of mourning.

These rallies held on May 2, 1943, in many instances were led jointly led by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis — an uncommon display of unity. Equally significant, the Federal Council of Churches, whose foreign secretary had addressed the students’ interseminary conference earlier that year, agreed to organizememorial assemblies at churches in numerous cities on the same day.

Many of the assemblies featured speeches by both rabbis and Christian clergymen, as well as prominent political figures. Prayer services and rallies were held across the United States in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Hartford, Providence, Chattanooga and Kansas City, as well as in the state of Nebraska.

The gatherings received significant coverage in newspapers and on radio. “Milwaukee Churches Call on U.S., Allies to Open Doors to Refugees,” one headline read. “Nazi Barbarism Condemned by Pastor at Temple Service,” another declared.

This important Jewish-Christian alliance helped raise American public awareness about the Nazi slaughter of European Jewry, and increased the interest of Congress and the media in the possibility of rescuing Jews from Hitler — which, in turn, turned up the pressure on the White House to take action.

At a time when the prevailing assumption was that nobody cared and nothing could be done to save Jews from Hitler, three rabbinical students managed to mobilize Christian sympathy for Hitler’s victims and convince a major Jewish organization to undertake a nationwide protest campaign.

Last year, when staffers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum began designing “Americans and the Holocaust,” Holocaust historian Dr. Rafael Medoff and David Golinkin met with two senior museum officials. We presented them with a copy of the book we co-authored, “The Student Struggle Against the Holocaust.” We explained the significance of the students’ actions. In the months to follow, we reiterated those points in correspondence with the exhibit curators. Actually the staffers already had all the documentation in their own files before we approached them.

We were surprised and saddened to discover this week that the interfaith protest campaign by synagogues and churches throughout the United States in the spring of 1943 is not mentioned in the exhibit. Likewise, there is no mention of the remarkable conference of Christian and Jewish seminary students. One article that our fathers wrote is buried in an interactive display about media coverage of the Holocaust — and there is no mention of the conference or the campaign.

Obviously we felt it is important to honor our fathers (in keeping with the fourth of the Ten Commandments), but the issue has broader significance, which is why we are publishing this article. These student protests by clergy are a vital chapter in the history of American responses to the Holocaust because they were forerunners of the mass interfaith protests by students and clergy for human rights and human lives since the 1960s that shook American politics then, but failed to do so in the 1940s.

The running theme of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new exhibit is that anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment were extremely strong among the American public in those days. That point comfortably fits the exhibit’s argument that it was impossible for FDR to do very much to help Jewish refugees.

But sometimes history is not so black and white. While there were many bigots in those days, there were many good people, too. While many Jews were afraid to protest against an otherwise friendly administration at the time, our fathers showed something bolder could still be envisioned and attempted when they helped mobilize thousands of good people, of all faiths, to speak out. That is an important part of the story, and it should have been included in this major new exhibit.

(Rabbi David Golinkin is president of the Schechter Institutes, Inc., Jerusalem. Noam Sachs Zion is a senior researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem.)


Roberto Saviano, Author of ‘Gomorrah,’ Takes on Internet Nazis

Tired of internet conspiracy theories and vile anti-Semitism, the journalist turns his attention from Italy’s mafia to its white supremacists

Later this month, Roberto Saviano, the renowned Italian journalist, will testify at the first hearing of a trial against 39 Italian neo-Nazis who were accused, among other things, of participating in an online group that incited racial discrimination and violence. For years, between 2009 and 2012, the group held discussions that included white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the American hate site Stormfront.

In one of the threads, members of the site posted lists of alleged influential Jews: entrepreneurs, artists, and journalists. Among the people listed, were Carlo De Benedetti, former president of the publishing group L’Espresso, TV host Gad Lerner, and Saviano himself, whose maternal grandparents had Jewish origins, although he identifies as atheist.

An investigation carried out by the Italian police revealed chilling conversations among the members of Stormfront Italy. “I still believe that the great Führer had found the right solution for those damn rats,” wrote Filippo Galbesi, one of the users, in one of the threads. Another member, Alessandro Pedroni, stated: “To build—this time FOR REAL—homicidal gas chambers, applying for real what they pretend happened to them, I believe that would be the REAL FINAL SOLUTION.” All members took part in the discussions under nicknames, but the police discovered and published their names.

Roberto Saviano is no stranger to hatred, online hatred included. After publishing in 2006 his debut novel, Gomorrah, in which he exposed the operations of a cartel of the Neapolitan mafia, the death threats became so serious and frequent that he was put under police protection. As of today, the book has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was translated into over 50 languages. The hatred toward him remains—from the mafia, of course, but also from the people who bitterly accuse him of capitalizing on his anti-mafia fight to enrich himself.

But what he read in the Italian threads of Stormfront—which was later shut down in Italy—and the thousands of hate emails that followed, calling him a Jew and a Mason, particularly upset him.

“They began creating these lists [of Jews], claiming there was a secret connection between them in order to manipulate public opinion,” Saviano said in an interview at Tablet magazine’s office in New York. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists often claim the existence of a Jewish lobby that controls politics, the media, and the economy. “These lists were very dangerous, as they were successful, getting thousands of clicks.”

These Neo-Nazis could have written a book, Saviano said, and nobody would have paid attention; but these documents being so easily accessible, just one click away, made them so much more widespread.

The reports on the lists, published by the Italian news media in 2011, captured the attention of the police in regards to the site.

A few months later, a member of the forum, Ivan Lomasto, who then was 19 years old, created a thread titled “List of Jewish Communities in Italy, Shops, Restaurants, Schools.”

In 2012, the members returned to focus on Saviano in a new thread regarding his positions on immigration, which he had recently expressed on a popular talk show, Che tempo che fa. A few days later, police raided the homes of several members, and arrested four of the Stormfront Italy activists.

About a year later, Saviano reported the group to the police. Other individuals who had been insulted or threatened in the pages of Stormfront, including journalist Marco Pasqua and former minister Andrea Riccardi, had previously filed police reports, as well.

“This group of people were building a network through which they picked their targets and coordinated [cyber-]attacks,” said Saviano, who splits his time between Italy and the United States and will travel to Rome to testify in court on May 28. His goal, he said, is to create a precedent in the Italian legal system that will help regulate hate speech on the internet.

The trial may last several years. In the meantime, Saviano has been busy with many other projects. The TV series he wrote inspired by his own book, Gomorrah, released in the United States by SundanceTV and now on Netflix, has been particularly successful. During our interview, he revealed that he’s written a new series, entitled Kosher Nostra, on the Israeli mafia in Tel Aviv and New York. “They mainly did pills,” he said, “in the 1990s they were the kings of ecstasy.”

Palomar, an Italian production company, has bought the rights to the subject. Saviano is currently discussing the project with other people in the United States, such as Thomas Benski, one of the producers of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and Nadav Schirman, who produced the documentary The Green Prince.

Above everything else, Saviano wants to fight racist conspiracy theories. He said that anti-Semitism is returning to Italy as a form of “translation” of conspiracy theories.

“Try to look up Soros [on Google], you’ll find thousands of pages about him.” According to the theories, Jewish business magnate George Soros, who has donated billions of dollars to several philanthropic causes, wants to import millions of immigrants into Europe to destroy the old continent. “This stems from the fact that Soros is Jewish and that he speculated against the lira. These two elements are used to attack all of the Jews in Italy and consider them Soros’s allies.”

Last summer, Saviano published an article defending the non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders for saving migrants in the Mediterranean. He was criticized for it, with the claim that he was defending the NGO because he is Jewish and he therefore sides with Soros’s alleged plan. Another reason for the online attacks was his participation in a debate on Israel in 2010, despite his openly critical stance on many of Netanyahu’s policies. “In Italy,” Saviano explained, “you cannot have a critical and interlocutory opinion on Israel; either you ask for its immediate dissolution, or you are considered to be part of the conspiracy.”

Stormfront was founded in 1995 by a former director of the Ku Klux Klan. It is considered to be one of the most popular online forums for white supremacists and other racial extremists, counting hundreds of thousands registered members.

Just like their American colleagues, Italian members of Stormfront, before the site was obscured by local authorities, were obsessed with white supremacy, the alleged existence of a Jewish lobby, and Holocaust denial.

“They use a word, a neologism … olomiracolata (Holomiraculous),” continued Saviano. This is the way they contemptuously call Holocaust survivors who “profit and get famous because of their survival. If you profit from your books or your talks on your [experience in the Holocaust], you are an Holomiraculous.”

Saviano gazed back at the papers of the impending trial.

“I’m tired of being a victim of this systematic obscenity,” he said. “The internet has no rules.” You may be able to delete a racial slur from an online thread. “But,” he concluded, “you cannot delete the evil you’ve done.”


How comic books taught American kids about the Holocaust

The authors of a new book say a surprising number of mainstream comics addressed the genocide during the ’50s and ’60s, when it was not often being taught in schools

‘We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust’ features 18 comics that dealt with the Holocaust. (IDW Publishing/Yoe Books, JTA Collage)

NEW YORK (JTA) — In 2008, famed comic book artist Neal Adams and Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff teamed up to create a comic about Dina Babbitt, a Czech Jewish artist forced by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele to paint watercolors of Roma prisoners in Auschwitz. They hoped to bring attention to a little-known figure in the Holocaust.

But their work on the comic, published by Marvel, also led them to ponder a larger issue: the surprising degree to which comic books had addressed the genocide in Europe.

“We were surprised and impressed to discover that a number of mainstream comic books had taken on Holocaust-related themes in their story lines at various points over the years,” Medoff, the founding director of the David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, told JTA in a phone interview last month.

Medoff and Adams — known for his iconic work on DC Comics’ Batman and Green Arrow — decided to explore how a genre aimed at entertaining youths tackled one of history’s darkest chapters.

The results of the research is their new book, “We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust,” which was published last month and co-written with author and artist Craig Yoe.

In the decades immediately following World War II, many high school students did not learn about the Holocaust, and TV programs, movies, and books only addressed it sporadically, Medoff told JTA.

“It struck us that comic books apparently were one of the ways in which American teenagers were learning about the Holocaust at a time when most of them were not learning about it in school,” he said.

Adams, who designed the book’s cover image, created three of the comics reproduced in full in the book: “Night of the Reaper,” a 1971 comic featuring Batman and Robin and a Holocaust survivor bent on revenge; “Thou Shalt Not Kill!,” a 1972 comic about a golem that kills Nazis in Prague; and “The Last Outrage,” the 2008 comic he created with Medoff about Babbitt’s life.

The book also features three works by the late Jewish comic book icon Joe Kubert, the Polish-born pioneer at DC Comics who founded The Kubert School for budding comics artists.

Captain America, a superhero who fought the Nazis in a comic book series that began in 1940, is featured in a 1979 comic about a Holocaust survivor’s experiences at a fictionalized concentration camp. Notably, it was the first time in the character’s long run that the persecution of the Jews was mentioned.

Many of the 18 comics in the book feature Holocaust survivors seeking vengeance against Nazis, and some present superheroes. Jews wrote about or drew half the comics.

Adams, 76, said comics provide a way to present the horror of the Holocaust in a way that people can “endure it.” As a 10-year-old living in West Germany, where his father was stationed with the US Army, he was shown three hours of footage of concentration camps being liberated. He was so traumatized by what he saw that he did not speak for a week afterward.

“You’re just seeing it over and over again, the devastation, people living in their own filth, and after a while you just can’t,” he said of the experience. “The idea of this [book] was to take this down to smaller chunks so that people could endure it.”

Yoe said comics also allow readers to take time to think about what they are learning.

“One of the advantages to comics over movies and TV is that you can read at your own pace, especially important stories like these,” he said. “You can stop and ponder a particular panel, or go back and look at the other thing.”

Comics have taken on other weighty issues, including racism, drug abuse, and the environment, but such story lines are the exception.

“Most comic book stories of course are just about superheroes chasing supervillains, but there have been many important exceptions to that,” Medoff said.

The authors note several distinct ways the Holocaust was depicted at various times. In the 1950s and early ’60s, comics tended to portray the Holocaust in general terms, without references to Jews as the victims.

“It seemed to me as a historian that this reflected the general mindset in American society at that time, in the ’50s and early ’60s, which was to play down ethnic differences and to universalize the Holocaust as if it was something that kind of happened to everybody,” Medoff said.

Magneto, an X-Men villain created by Stan Lee, was born Max Eisenhardt and has a backstory that includes surviving internment at Auschwitz. (Flickr/ Gord Fynes)

In the following decades, he said, writers were more likely to explicitly identify Holocaust victims as Jewish.

Medoff believes the book can be a useful teaching aid in educating about the Holocaust.

“Unfortunately, classroom Holocaust education has not been as effective as we hoped it would be,” he said, citing a recent survey that found that many US millennials lacked basic knowledge about the Holocaust. “[C]omic book stories offer a way to communicate these history lessons to students that might be more effective than some of the ways that have been used until now.”

Adams said that need is especially urgent today.

“Anyone who’s even paying attention to modern politics ought to be warned that if you do not study history, you’re doomed to repeat it,” he said. “We’re on the crux of some very difficult times, and a book like this is a good reminder.”


It’s not just Abbas: Blaming Jews for the Holocaust is widespread

Discredited theories about the genocide are common in Europe and among Palestinians, who have used them as an ideological weapon against Israel


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, April 30, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

JTA — Even reliable supporters condemned Mahmoud Abbas when he blamed the Holocaust on the Jews’ own behavior.

That claim and others made during the Palestinian leader’s lengthy address Monday in Ramallah triggered the harshest wave of censures ever directed at him in the West.

Israel, the United States and a United Nations official used some of the strongest terms in the diplomatic vocabulary to denounce Abbas. The New York Times editorial board called for him to step down, and even the main Palestinian rights advocacy group in Germany criticized the speech and labeled it anti-Semitic.

Faced with a tsunami of condemnations, Abbas apologized in a statement Friday in which he called the genocide against the Jews “the most heinous crime in history.” It was a familiar pattern for someone who for decades has alternated between recognition and denial of the Holocaust.

But if the reaction to Abbas’s speech was unusual, his discredited theories about the Holocaust are not — not among Palestinians, who have used them as an ideological weapon against Israel, and not in Europe, where they are proliferating for different reasons.

European Jews, Abbas said in Ramallah, had been “subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years, since the 11th century and until the Holocaust in Germany.” The Palestinian Authority president went on to say that the Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, who was not Jewish, was in fact a Jew and that Stalin and other Jews had said that “this anti-Jewish [sentiment] was not because of their religion, but because of their function in society, which had to do with usury, banks and so on.”

Abbas, 82, then corrected himself and said he had meant to quote Karl Marx, not Stalin.

This trope that Jews brought genocide on themselves by controlling the levers of financial power is rooted in European classical anti-Semitism as expressed in the Russian forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” according to Esther Webman, a senior scholar at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv. Her field of expertise is Arab anti-Semitism and perceptions of the Holocaust.

“In Arab discourse, these anti-Semitic teachings are weaponization to foment hatred of Israel,” she said.

For various reasons, such theories are particularly prevalent in Eastern European countries whose populations were widely complicit in the Holocaust, according to Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, the Eastern Europe director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“A very strong element of Holocaust distortion in the region is to justify complicity in the Holocaust by framing it as a payback for the actions of Jews,” he said, referencing the outsize support by Jews for communism, which Russia imposed on the region with ruthless oppression.

Zsolt Bayer, a co-founder of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, wrote an op-ed in 2016 in which he justified Eastern European Holocaust collaboration as payback for the actions of communists.

“Why do we find it shocking that 20 years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?” Bayer said of the average villager in Hungary.

But in Abbas’s case, his Ramallah speech was merely the latest of a series of statements that he has made since the 1980s that have been widely considered anti-Semitic.

In the introduction to his 1984 book titled “The Other Aspect: The Secret Ties Between the Nazis and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement,” Abbas wrote about the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust: “In truth, no one can refute or confirm this number. In other words, the number of Jewish victims could be 6 million and could be much smaller — even less than 1 million.”

In the book, he also quoted the French-British Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson’s discredited claim that the Nazis used gas chambers only for disease control rather than to murder Jews.

But since climbing up the ranks of the PLO, Abbas has largely stayed off the topic of the Holocaust, according to Webman.

“This is an unusual return for him,” she said of Monday’s speech.

Abbas’s journey from denial to justification represents an evolution in how Palestinian society as a whole has treated the Holocaust since the 1990s, according to Itamar Marcus, founder of Palestinian Media Watch in Jerusalem, which monitors Arab outlets.

From outright denial in 1991, the press in the West Bank and Gaza have shifted to blaming Zionist activists for alleged complicity in the Holocaust, citing and exaggerating agreements made by Zionist activists with Nazi officials in the early 1930s that facilitated German Jewish immigration to prestate Israel.

Abbas repeated that claim in his remarks, depicting what Zionists viewed as a desperate rescue mission as proof that Zionism was a Nazi-backed enterprise.

Amid international pressure over this distortion, Marcus said, the state-controlled Palestinian media in the 2000s began showing signs of recognition for the Holocaust. But that gradually gave way to drawing comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, including by Abbas.

“In recent years, we’re seeing a fifth stage: justification for the Holocaust becoming a main narrative,” Marcus said.

He cited an article from 2011 in the Zayzafuna youth magazine of Abbas’s PLO, whose author, a 10th-grader, imagined having a conversation with Adolf Hitler. She asks the Fuehrer if he’s the “one who killed the Jews.” Hitler replies: “Yes. I killed them so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world.”

Denial, distortion and justification of the Holocaust serve a clear political purpose in the Arab world, according to Webman.

“In the Arab view, the State of Israel was created because of the Holocaust. So to undermine the Holocaust is to undermine the moral grounds for Israel’s creation,” she said.

If the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves, the reasoning goes, then there is no moral grounds for compensating them with a national home in what the PLO considers Palestine.

This ignores not just a Nazi obsession with Jews that did not discriminate by occupation, nationality, age or gender, but also the legitimacy of a Jewish project of self-rule in their historic homeland that predated and was well underway before the Holocaust.

“But this is not accepted in the Arab worldview,” she said.

Claiming that Zionists were complicit in the Holocaust – a trope that is gaining traction among supporters of the far left in Britain – also feeds the notion that the West is to blame for giving Palestine to the Jews, Webman said.

In the Arab world, Holocaust distortion is part of a broader effort to deny ties between the Jewish people and Israel, Webman said. And on that front, she added, “Abbas is a prominent voice, it’s a big part of his legacy.”

This effort by Abbas included promoting at UNESCO several resolutions since 2015 that deny or ignore Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem. And it also featured prominently in his Ramallah speech, although this element was eclipsed by his apparent justification of the Holocaust.

On Monday, quoting a widely discredited theory about the mass conversion to Judaism of the Turkic nation of the Khazars in the ninth century, Abbas said about Ashkenazi Jews, “They are not Semites and have no connection to Semites, neither to Abraham nor to Jacob.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tablet intern Theo Canter contributed reporting to this article


Sleuths probing betrayal of Anne Frank snag a book deal

HarperCollins buys rights to story of investigative team looking into decades-long mystery over how the Jewish family’s attic hideout in Amsterdam was discovered in 1944

Anne Frank, aged 12, at her school desk in Amsterdam, 1941. (Courtesy, Beyond the Story)

NEW YORK — An investigative team looking into who betrayed Anne Frank and her family has a book deal.

“Anne Frank: A Cold Case Diary” will be published in the summer of 2020, HarperCollins Publishers told The Associated Press on Thursday. The book was among the most talked about at last month’s London Book Fair.

Former FBI agent Vincent Pankoke has been leading an international effort to solve the decades-long mystery over how the Jewish family’s attic hideout in Amsterdam was discovered in 1944.

Anne Frank was sent to a concentration camp and died the following year. Her father Otto Frank later found her diary, which has sold millions of copies.

The publisher acquired world rights to the book.

View of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Holland, where Anne and her family hid in a ‘Secret Annex’ during the Holocaust. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)