A Song of the Vilna Ghetto

September 23 will mark 75 years since the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. This is the story of how one of the era’s most famous Jewish songs was written in the ghetto by an 11-year-old boy

Once upon a time…

Winter is here again and it’s cold. On December 20, an announcement appears in the local paper: The Municipal Department of Culture will award prizes in three separate categories – literature, music and painting. “Only unpublished works are eligible,” reads the advertisement, “on any theme.” The editor, Dr. Feldstein, expresses his delight that this triple competition will enable “many young people … to create a private world of dreams and visions and to live through the art of verse, sound and color.” The submission deadline is January 31, and the prizes are rather tempting: The third-prize winners in each category will receive ten thousand dollars, second-prize winners will receive twice as much, and the first-prize winners will each receive thirty thousand dollars – substantial sums, despite the terrible cost of living.

Noah, a renowned physician, encourages his only son, eleven-year-old Alek, to submit something for the music competition. Noah is a music lover and an amateur pianist, and he and his wife Fanya, a nurse, began the boy’s piano lessons when he was five. He is now enrolled at the Municipal School of Music along with a hundred other students. His piano instructor, Tamara Girszowicz, is one of two founding directors of the Institute. “She was an outstanding teacher,” Alek would say many years later. “She helped me develop as a pianist and also encouraged me to improvise, and even compose,” and it was she who suggested to his father that Alek should compose a piece for the contest.

And so, Alek’s father writes a short one-stanza poem about current affairs and asks Alek to set it to music. Like the rest of the competing works, it is submitted anonymously. The results of the three competitions are posted on February 14; ultimately, it was decided to award a fourth prize – half the sum of the third prize, at the expense of the sum designated for the first prize. The first through third prize entries in the music category were composed by adult professionals; the fourth was the one submitted by “Pena,” the pseudonym used by Alek, who by now is almost twelve years old.

On Saturday, March 6, a literary-musical event is held at the municipal theater. It begins at 8:30 pm with a dramatization of excerpts from classical stories. In the second half of the program the works of the laureates in literature and music are presented. Shmerke, a popular songwriter, has adapted Noah’s original lyrics to Alek’s melody and the song is performed by a sixteen-year-old girl named Mirele. The audience is moved to tears, and the song “Quiet, Quiet” becomes an immediate hit sung by everyone. The fourth prize work – “the composer is a beginner, but shows talent,” the judges wrote – earned eternal fame, while the other winning pieces have been entirely forgotten. Today, seventy-five years after it was written in the Vilna Ghetto, “Shtiler, Shtiler” is today one of the most famous Holocaust songs.

Of course, the “City” in the story was the administration of Jacob Gens, head of the ghetto under the German occupiers; The newspaper was the weekly Geto-yedies(Ghetto News) – how could a ghetto exist without a newspaper, after all? And the amount of the prizes money, given in the occupiers’ currency, was indeed a handsome sum relative to the average “salary” of a forced laborer – but the times were such that the price of a single loaf of bread often exceeded half the weekly wage.

“The list of entries, the composers’ pseudonyms, and the judges’ comments in the musical competition read like a fairy tale,” historian Solon Beinfeld once remarked in surprise, and justifiably so. It is therefore worth pausing a moment to avoid falling into a kind of Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful trap (“Look, they wrote music and songs and held contests and put on shows, how terrible could it have been?”) and to remember that ghetto life was no musical comedy; the Vilna Ghetto was hell on earth, one of countless offshoots of hell established by the Nazis under their vast dominion. The story of “Quiet, Quiet” is tangled up in the predicament of the ghetto in early 1943, and to understand it properly, we must first recount the history of the community up to that time.

Vilna, or Vilne (in Polish: Wilno, and nowadays known by its Lithuanian name, Vilnius) had been one of the most important cultural centers of Eastern European Jewry for hundreds of years, so much so that it was often called “The Jerusalem of Lithuania.” Having been under Russian rule for over a century, it was eventually incorporated into the newly re-established Polish state in the early 1920s. On the eve of World War II, Vilna was the home of some sixty thousand Jews, comprising over a quarter of its population. Jewish cultural life was vibrant and immensely rich. The Vilna Jews enjoyed a variety of educational institutions, including both Yiddish and Hebrew gymnasiums, as well as public libraries. There were Jewish orchestras and a choir and a drama studio, printing houses, newspapers and periodicals and what not. “The Jerusalem of galut, the consolation of the Eastern people in the north,” it was called by poet Zalman Shneur, who had spent a couple of years there in his youth at the turn of the century. So great a Jewish city, that even its drawers of water, as it were, “draw from the source of the Torah giants.”

Following the outbreak of the war in September 1939, Vilnius underwent a series of upheavals and shocks. Captured by the Red Army, it was first handed over to the Lithuanians, only to be later annexed by the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded its eastern neighbor and former ally, and two days after that the Wehrmacht conquered the city. Vilna Jews soon suffered a series of Aktions, beginning in early July, where some thirty-five thousand people were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. But they were not transported by train to extermination camps dozens or hundreds of miles away; rather, the mass murder of Vilna’s Jews took place in the city’s own backyard – Ponar.

Ponar (Ponary in Polish; Lithuanian: Paneriai) was a wooded area less than five miles southwest of the city, on the road to Grodno. On the way out of town you can see the meandering Viliya River. Before the war the residents of Vilnius would enjoy holiday strolls there, gathering berries and mushrooms. Jewish schools would also go there on hikes, and at night sit around the campfire and sing and dance. The Nazis saw a different potential in Ponar. The Soviets had dug large pits in the forest to store fuel tanks, but they left them behind before the project was completed. “Just as the Germans arrived, they discovered it,” wrote the great Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever in his prose account, Fun vilner geto, “a place as though tailor-made for their murderous plans. On the right, a road to transport the victims in cars; on the left, the Vilnius–Warsaw railway line.”

In December 1941, the great Aktions ceased. The Germans needed cheap labor, and since Jewish forced laborers were much cheaper to employ than non-Jews, they decided it would serve their purposes to keep them alive for the moment. The interval before the summer of 1943 is thus referred to as “the period of relative quiet.” Of course, the ghetto Jews had no way of knowing whether the Aktions had really ended, and they continued to feel the threat of them over their heads. Even during this time of relative quiet, the murder of individuals accused of “crimes” like food smuggling continued, as did that of the elderly and the sick deemed unfit for work. Nevertheless, the Jews of the ghetto clung to the belief, fostered by the Germans, that their work was essential and increased their chances of survival.

At the end of 1941, half a year into the German occupation, only about one-third of the Jews of Vilna, some twenty thousand people, were still alive and crowded into seven alleys in the ghetto. Despite their inconceivable distress, an extensive educational and cultural activity was carried out there. It was a remarkable aspect of the high level of organization and modes of life that emerged, largely under the influence of the head of the ghetto, Jacob Gens. “The cultural life in the Vilna Ghetto began the very day we entered there,” Sutzkever wrote. And what an impressive life it was! The ghetto dwellers had not only kindergartens and elementary schools, a heder and yeshivas, a vocational school and a gymnasium – towards the end, they even began having compulsory school attendance – but also schools of music, art, eurhythmics and theater, a children’s club and a youth club. There were a theater, a symphony orchestra and choirs (a Yiddish choir and two Hebrew ones, large and small), as well as a cultural center with a lending library and a reading room, an archive, a statistical bureau and a museum. Concerts, literary evenings, lectures, exhibitions and sports competitions were held. The theater, the orchestra and the choirs not only performed pieces from the familiar repertoire but served as an important forum for new works created in the ghetto itself.

Such was the setting of Gens’s decision in December 1942 to hold the competition for which what later became “Quiet, Quiet” was composed by young Alexander (Alek) Wolkowyski (later Tamir). The original poem was written by his father, Dr. Noah (Leon) Wolkowyski, in Polish, the language spoken in their home, and the man who translated it into Yiddish, the mother tongue of most Vilna Jews, and added two stanzas to it was Shmerke Kaczerginski. Kaczerginski, working in the so-called “Paper Brigade,” was involved in saving thousands of Jewish books and tens of thousands of Jewish documents from the Germans. He was a member of the United Partisan Organization (FPO), an organizer of many cultural events of the ghetto, and no less important – a prolific lyricist, who expressed the reality of ghetto life in his songs, many of which became hits.

It was Wolkowyski Sr. who chose the lullaby form – a rather understandable choice coming from a man who wished to help his young son deal with the impossible reality of the ghetto. All that is known about the original Polish verse is that its first words were: “Hush, hush, hearts are crying” (Cicho, cicho, serca płaczą). The Yiddish version begins as follows: “Shtiler, shtiler, lomir shvaygn, / Kvorim vaksn do. / S’hoben zey farflanst di sonim, / Grinen zey tsum blo. / S’firen vegn zu Ponar tsu, / S’firt keyn veg tsurik. / Iz der tate vu farshvundn / Un mit im dos glik.” And in English (the translation is based on a popular rendering that keeps rhyme and rhythm, with minor modifications intended to bring it slightly closer to the original):

“Quiet, quiet, let’s be silent,

Graves are growing here.

They were planted by the enemies,

See their bloom appear.

All the roads lead to Ponar now,

There are no roads back.

Papa too has vanished somewhere

And with him our luck.”

 

A Hebrew translation of the song, written by the renowned Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky, was published in Mandatory Palestine in September 1945, only a few months after the end of the war and even before the original, Yiddish version appeared in print. And where, you might ask? Why, in the first issue of the children’s magazine Mishmar LaYeladim. During the war, as news of the genocide taking place in Europe leaked out, the lullabies published in the children’s magazines of the Yishuv served as a means of mediating the events to young readers. For the sake of those who might not have heard of Ponar, a note appeared under the lyrics: “A forest near Vilnius, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered.” Rather blunt for a children’s magazine, perhaps, but then, even today, more than seven decades later, educators still debate the correct way to educate children about the Holocaust.

Having escaped the ghetto just before its liquidation and fought as a partisan until liberation in the summer of 1944, Kaczerginski set to systematically collect and publish the songs of the ghettos and camps. When the original “Quiet, Quiet” first appeared in print in December 1945, in the New York Morning Freiheit, he spoke about the unique characteristics of ghetto songs. “In ordinary times, songs have a long way to go before they become popular. But in the ghetto … a personal work turned into folklore right before our eyes. Any newly created song that expressed the feelings and experiences of the masses immediately caught on as though it were their own.” Daily life in the ghetto, he said, not only influenced the themes of the songs but was also the reason their form was often “not polished but rather simple, though unmediated and true.”

Unmediated and true, indeed. It’s the spring of 1943, and the ghetto is still largely in a state of denial “There’s no such thing as Ponar, it isn’t real, it’s a Bolshevik fabrication,” the Germans used to say. On a map of Vilnius printed by the Germans when “Ponar” became synonymous with nightmare, the name was omitted altogether and appearing in its stead was a patch of green. True, more than a year earlier, on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Abba Kovner had famously proclaimed before his comrades at an underground meeting that “All the roads of the Gestapo lead to Ponar. And Ponar is death!” But most of the ghetto dwellers are no fighters, and they simply want to survive, clinging to the belief that work will save them. There’s no one who hasn’t lost loved ones in Ponar: parents, children, spouses, friends – two-thirds of the community have been murdered there – but maybe it’s best to talk about something else.

It is at this point in time that “Quiet, Quiet” emerges, and with a somber yet comforting melody, like a familiar lullaby, states simply and clearly:

“All the roads lead to Ponar now,

There are no roads back.

Papa too has vanished somewhere

And with him our luck.”

 

And the ghetto, beaten and grieving, sings.

The song was performed before a large audience in the ghetto theater. There are no photographs of this performance, let alone audio or video recordings, but we do have an account given by someone who witnessed it. Nehamka Rahav (then Shuster) was a sixteen-year-old girl at the time, the same age as the singer, Mirele. Interviewed by Ofer Gavish in 2000, she described Mirele as a beautiful girl with curly blonde hair. She didn’t remember her last name, but she knew that she had perished in the Stutthof concentration camp in 1945, towards the end of the war.

In 2001, director Racheli Schwartz went to Vilnius to gather material for her documentary Ponar, which followed Gavish’s research and was dedicated to “Quiet, Quiet” and its composer, Alek – Alexander Tamir. The film reaches a climax with a moving tribute in the very same theater hall almost six decades after the song came into being. The performance included three renderings of the song: an artistic reading by Sima Skurkowitz, who was an actress and singer in the ghetto; a Yiddish performance by a student at the local Jewish school, about the age of Wolkowyski-Tamir when he composed the song; and a Hebrew rendition by Meital Trabelsi, accompanied by the composer, who had returned to his hometown for the first time. It was there that Nehamka Rahav spoke about the performance back in 1943. Her words indicate that the experience was utterly cathartic:

“Mirele, a tiny little girl, goes up to the stage. And when she starts singing – her voice sounds like bells – everybody begins to cry. Not hysterically, not wailing – their sobbing was terrible but silent, out of the depths. It was perhaps the first time people there had let themselves express what they had been feeling for a year and a half. I didn’t cry when they took my father away and murdered him in Ponar. I didn’t cry, not once. But that day I cried too, and my tears kept falling, and Mirele stood there, singing – that’s something I’ve never wanted to forget.”

The song concludes with the mother’s words of hope to her child:

“Let the wellspring calmly flow,

You be still and hope:

Papa will return with freedom,

Sleep, my child, oh sleep.

Like the Viliya – liberated,

The trees renewed in green,

Freedom’s light will soon shine

Upon your face,

Upon your face.”

 

So, it’s true that this hope was not very realistic – those who disappeared in Ponar, as in the first stanza, almost never returned; and besides, who knows if the ghetto dwellers even reached the optimistic end as they were softly singing to themselves. And yes, in public, whenever the Yiddish choir performed the song, they were forced to censor themselves and sing “All the roads lead to Ponar now” without the actual word “Ponar.” But there’s no doubt that the song indeed “expressed the feelings and experiences of the masses,” and that, as Rahav’s account suggests, the very fact the people of the ghetto could sing it was in itself invaluable. Among the thirty-seven songs gathered by Kaczerginski after the war in the anthology Dos gezang fun vilner geto (Songs of the Vilna Ghetto), almost all of which written in the ghetto, there is no other song that contains such reference to Ponar. And the enchanting melody must have done its part, too: in Tzila Dagan’s gentle, serene voice in Hebrew, as in the thunderous, pompous performance of Sidor Belarsky in Yiddish – this melody still enchants today, as the song is one of only a handful written during the war that are performed in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies.

In the spring of 1946, the song was published in the journal for Jewish ethnography Reshumot. The publication was accompanied by biographical details about the poet, Kaczerginski, including his activities during the war. The editors could even say that “the melody was written by the youngest among the Jewish composers in the ghetto, an eight-year-old boy, Dr. Wolkowyski’s son, and it is rumored that he is now in Eretz Israel.”

The rumor was true. After the liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943, young Alek was sent to a labor camp in Estonia, where his father served as a camp doctor. As the Soviets approached, a Selektion was conducted, in which the two were separated: his father was killed, and Alek was sent to another camp, and from there to yet another, where he managed to survive until he was liberated by the French army in April 1945, at the age of fourteen. A few months later he immigrated to what would soon become Israel and reunited with his relatives. In the early 1950s he studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, where he later became a professor, and in 1955 he joined Bracha Eden in the creation of a classical piano duo, which performed for fifty years. Alek Wolkowyski, the little boy who composed a song for a contest in the midst of all the horror and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, became Alexander Tamir, a famous concert pianist. In 1968, the duo founded the Targ (now the Eden–Tamir) Music Center in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, where he still lives.

The hope expressed in the song was eventually realized only on a tiny scale: By the time the Viliya was finally liberated, the vast majority of the Jewish community – not only those in the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” but in all of Lithuania – had been decimated; out of over two hundred thousand Jews who had remained in the country under German occupation, only five percent – one in twenty – survived, as did twelve thousand more who had been deported or escaped to the Soviet Union. Lithuania became nearly “free of Jews.” About seventy thousand Jews were killed in Ponar alone; the Nazis didn’t plant any graves there, but rather made every effort to hide their deeds. Tamir’s father, like most fathers – and mothers, and children – never came back.

During his extensive career, Alexander Tamir has toured many cities around the world, but he always avoided his hometown. Only when he approached the age of seventy did the pianist agree, at Schwartz’s invitation, to visit the graveyard of his childhood. In the film, it’s quite clear to the audience that he knows nothing awaits him there but ghosts. He visits his childhood home, which was turned into a clinic, and then proceeds to what was once the “doctors’ block” in the ghetto. The old buildings in Vilnius are still there, but Tamir’s Vilna has long since perished. All he has left are memories. And we have his song.

Source: https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/271303/a-song-of-the-vilna-ghetto

After foot-dragging, Romanian Holocaust victims got $10 million since 2015

(JTA) — Romanian Holocaust survivors have received $10 million in payments since 2015, the World Jewish Restitution Organization said.

The funds have been distributed to thousands of recipients from that country, which after decades of resistance and foot-dragging has in recent years taken some major steps toward offering compensation to victims of the genocide perpetrated by its former ally, Nazi Germany, and local collaborators.

During the High Holidays, WJRO distributed extra aid among 142 impoverished recipients, including a 104-year-old who lives alone in Israel, the organization said.

“These funds help Holocaust victims live with the dignity they deserve,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations, said in a statement last week.

Over the past three years, payments of over  $1,900 were made to 1,393 needy Holocaust survivors from Israel from funding obtained after 2015. Another 1,067 needy survivors reveiced $600 payments.

In 2017, extra funds for Romanian Holocaust survivors living outside Israel and Romania were set aside and $600,000 distributed among those recipients. Another $1.3 is to be given out to the same group this year.

The program for Romanian Holocaust survivors is administered by the Claims Conference on behalf of the Caritatea Foundation, which was formed as a partnership of the WJRO and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania.

In 2016, legislation making it easier for Holocaust survivors to press restitution claims passed in Romania’s Parliament.

But Romania has not addressed heirless or unclaimed property left by victims of Holocaust persecution. Years after the expiration of a deadline for filing claims for private-owned property stolen during the Holocaust, Romanian authorities have processed less than half of some 250,000 claims.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/21/default/romanian-holocaust-victims-got-10-million-since-2015

Polish town accused of turning Jewish cemetery into soccer field

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Polish school children at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the field in Klimontow, Poland, Sept. 6, 2018. (Courtesy of the Municiplaity of Klimontow)

(JTA) — A state-funded sports complex was built on a disused Jewish cemetery in southeastern Poland, several Jewish groups complained.

The complex, comprising a basketball and soccer court, was inaugurated on Sept. 6 at a ribbon- cutting ceremony in Klimontow, a town located 20 miles northeast of Krakow, according to the municipality’s website. It said the project has received more than $90,000 in government funding.

But according to the Shem Olam Holocaust museum near Hadera in Israel, the complex is located atop the former Jewish cemetery fo the town, which before the Holocaust had thousands of Jewish residents.

“This is deeply offensive to the Jewish People,” the museum’s director, Rabbi Avraham Kriger, wrote to the municipality last week, the news site Kipa reported.

Meir Bulka, an Israeli Holocaust commemoration activist and founder of the J-Nerations organization, told JTA that he believes the municipality was aware of the cemetery’s location when it built the complex on it. “They laid down piping there. There is no doubt they encountered graves,” he said Friday.

The municipality of Klimontow did not reply to telephone calls and an email from JTA requesting their reaction to the claims.

Yaakov Haguel, acting director of the World Zionist Organization, said he holds the Polish government responsible for the construction in Klimontow, which he called “a kick delivered to Polish Jewry Poland.”

In a statement, he noted the passing in January in Warsaw of a law prohibiting blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes, calling it “an attempt to blur history, compounded by insensitivity to Polish Jews” in Klimontow. “The Polish government must respect Jews as it does any other citizen. Such events must not be allowed to recur in Poland and beyond,” he added.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/21/default/polish-town-accused-turning-jewish-cemetery-soccer-field

2 Republican congressmen attended fundraiser with Holocaust denier

(JTA) — Two Republican congressmen who have been criticized for associating with a Holocaust denier attended a fundraiser with him.

The far-right activist Charles Johnson was invited to and attended the yacht fundraiser in Newport Beach, California, for Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on July 20, according to a report Thursday by the Mother Jones magazine. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California also attended.

Last October, news reports revealed that Rohrabacher had welcomed Johnson to a Capitol Hill meeting with Sen. Rand Paul. In response, the Anti-Defamation League urged Rohrabacher to “discontinue any association with Johnson and repudiate his views.”

Gaetz had also invited Johnson to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in January.

Gaetz was criticized for the invitation in light of Johnson’s assertions on Twitter in 2017 about Holocaust victims.

“I do not and never have believed the six million figure,” he wrote. “I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a ware [sic] crime. I agree … about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real.”

Referring to Johnson’s presence at the July 20 event, Jason Pitkin, Rohrabacher’s campaign finance director, told Mother Jones: “I don’t remember who invited him there.” Asked whether Johnson had come at the invitation of Gaetz, Kip Talley, the chief of staff for Gaetz’s re-election campaign, replied in an email, “It was a private event and you’re welcome to check the FEC reports to see who donated. Thanks for reaching out.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/14/news-opinion/2-republican-congressmen-attend-fundraiser-holocaust-denier?utm_source=JTA%20Maropost&utm_campaign=JTA&utm_medium=email&mpweb=1161-6021-185509

Yad Vashem questions honors for 3 Poles as Holocaust-era rescuers of Jews

Jonny Daniels

Jonny Daniels’ From the Depths organization honored three Poles last month for risking their lives to save Jews. Israel’s Yad Vashem museum took issue with the move. (Jonny Daniels/Facebook)

(JTA) — Israel’s state Holocaust museum expressed concerns over a Polish group honoring three people it did not recognize as having risked their lives to save Jews.

Joel Zisenwine, the director of the Yad Vashem museum’s Righteous Among the Nations department, said there is “fear that these actions may lead to misleading the public” in an email he sent this month to Holocaust commemoration activist Meir Bulka in Israel, who runs the JNerations group.

Bulka had written to Zisenwine to complain about the honoring of three people in Warsaw last month by the From the Depths organization, which was founded by Jonny Daniels, an Israeli-British Holocaust commemoration activist. Daniels has said the three honorees saved some 3,000 people by granting them documents that allowed them to escape.

“The basis for Daniels’ awarding of honors to rescuers of Jews is entirely unclear,” Zisenwine wrote.

One of the honorees, Julian Kulski, reportedly “had been appointed by the Nazis as acting mayor of Warsaw, demanding the leadership of the local Ghetto to reduce its size, vacate apartments etc.” Zisenwine wrote.

Yad Vashem had considered a request for recognition by the man’s son, but rejected it in the 1980s “due to conflicting testimonies and contradictions with other sources, that give a slightly different picture of his attitude to Jews,” Zisenwine said.

Among those who said Kulski helped saved the lives of Jews was Duda Falik, who told Yad Vashem in 1980 that Kulski hid her parents from 1940 to 1944.

Daniels told JTA that his group did not give any titles but defended its decision “to say thank you” to Kulski and any other person that it deems worthy of such a gesture based on its research and that of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance.

Recognition of Poles for saving Jews in the Holocaust is a sensitive issue.

Efforts in this field by Poland’s right-wing government have exposed it to criticism by some Jews who say it is highlighting Holocaust-era heroism to eclipse complicity.

Yad Vashem has recognized 6,863 Polish Righteous — far more than in any other country. But in February, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw alone had 90,000-150,000 people who risked their lives to save Jews.

Daniels’ advocates say he has made partnerships that reduce anti-Semitic rhetoric there. His critics, including Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, have accused him of helping the government politicize debate over the Holocaust, including in its passing this year of a controversial law making it illegal to blame Poland for Nazi crimes.

Daniels, who in February criticized a statement by Morawiecki as a form of “Holocaust denial,” defended his work as apolitical and devoted to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, as well as building cultural ties between Poland and Israel.

“We wish there were more Jewish foundations stepping forward to say thank you,” Daniels told JTA about the Yad Vashem criticism. His group, which interviews survivors and rescuers for testimonial films, will be holding additional events in the coming weeks to express gratitude to those it considers rescuers, he said, as “time is absolutely running out.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/13/news-opinion/yad-vashem-questions-honors-for-3-poles-as-holocaust-era-rescuers-of-jews

Jewish restaurant owner injured, restaurant vandalized during German neo-Nazi riots

Schalom restaurant Germany

Uwe Dziuballa, owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, Germany, talks to a journalist about the vandalism at his restaurant, Sept. 8, 2018. The attack took place two weeks earlier. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — An attack on a Jewish restaurant and its owner during last month’s riots in an east German city went unreported by law enforcement for several days, fueling anger by Jewish groups.

During anti-migrant demonstrations  in Chemnitz that turned violent on Aug. 27, about 12 masked neo-Nazis injured Uwe Dziuballa and vandalized his Schalom restaurant, according to Die Welt newspaper.

The attackers allegedly threw stones, bottles and a sawed-off steel pipe at Dziuballa and shouted, “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig.” A window in the restaurant was broken and Dziuballa was injured when a stone hit his shoulder.

Dziuballa has filed charges, according to the State Criminal Investigation Office in Saxony.

He said the police arrived on the scene quickly after he called them, but took a few days to secure evidence and record damage. Police confirmed the incident on Sept. 6; the local news media already had reported on it.

The Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism learned of the attack on Sept. 5 through the media reports and obtained photographs of alleged attackers dressed in black in front of the establishment.

Germany’s new commissioner against anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, told the newspaper that the incident appeared to represent a turn for the worse in anti-Semitic crimes.

“It is reminiscent of our worst recollections of the 1930s,” Klein said.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Munich and Bavaria, said in a statement on the eve of the Jewish New Year that the violent anti-migrant demonstrations in Chemnitz were already a wake-up call for the government and society.

“The fact that there was also a violent attack on the restaurant Schalom and its owner is shocking and underscores the urgency of resolute action against anti-democratic forces,” said Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust in hiding with a Christian family in Germany.

Dziuballa told die Welt he has often been subjected to anti-Semitic incidents, such as having swastikas painted on his storefront and pig heads left at the door. He nevertheless continues to keep the restaurant open.

Levi Salomon, the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism speaker, said in a statement that it was “outrageous that a masked mob in Chemnitz is attacking the city’s only Jewish restaurant, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, and we are not hearing about the case until days later.”

The group said the Saxony state office of criminal investigation assured it that “nothing was concealed” and did not always publicize individual cases under investigation.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/09/news-opinion/jewish-restaurant-owner-injured-restaurant-vandalized-german-neo-nazi-riots

70 years later, remains returned of Briton sent to Belsen for taking Nazi’s bike

Body of Frank Le Villio reinterred in ceremony in the Isle of Jersey

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The remains of a British man from Jersey who died following his imprisonment at a Nazi concentration camp were buried Wednesday near his home, over 70 years after he died.

Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, was occupied by Nazi forces from 1940 until the end of World War II.

Le Villio was sent to three different concentration camps during the war, including Bergen-Belsen in Germany, where some 200,000 people were taken. More than 52,000 camp inmates and 20,000 prisoners of war died there, among them the famous teenage diarist Anne Frank.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by British soldiers who found some 10,000 dead bodies when they entered the Nazi camp.

Though Le Villio survived, he died from tuberculosis in 1946 at 21 after returning to the United Kingdom and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at a cemetery in Nottingham, according to the BBC.

His remains were located in 2017 after being tracked down by Jersey resident Stanley Keiller, who was a boy at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands and took an interest in finding where Le Villio was buried.

“He was a young teenager who was taken away from us in those occupation years, and there’s a satisfaction in having found him,” the BBC quotedKeiller saying at the service Wednesday in St. Helier, near where Le Villio had lived.

Stan Hockley, A cousin of Le Villio’s who grew up with him, said the reburial was a “long, long journey.”

“The emphasis these days is on ‘forgive and forget.’ But those who say that — do they have relatives who were tortured and murdered, just for having an illicit ride on a bike?” Hockley said, according to The Daily Mail.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/briton-sent-to-bergen-belsen-for-taking-nazis-bike-has-remains-returned-home/

Prague station’s conversion to Holocaust memorial underway

The run-down property’s transformation is expected to take about two years

View of Prague, Czech Republic, on March 5, 2016 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

PRAGUE — The conversion of an abandoned railway station in Prague into a memorial for the Jews who were put on trains there to Nazi concentration camps has been launched in the Czech capital.

Activists have spent five years working to create the Memorial of Silence, which is meant to preserve the historical memory of the tens of thousands of Jews who departed from Bubny station during World War II.

With financing approved by City Hall, the run-down property’s transformation is expected to take about two years.

Before the war, nearly 120,000 Jews lived in the country known as Czechoslovakia. More than 80,000 died in the Holocaust.

Obchod na korze – jubilejní koncert a promítání oscarového filmu k oslavě přestavby Bubenského nádraží na Památník ticha před chvilkou zkončil. Moc děkujeme všem, kteří jste přišli.

Posted by Památník ticha Nádraží Bubny on Friday, 7 September 2018

An outdoor screening of an Oscar-winning 1965 Czech film set during the era, “The Shop on Main Street,” with a live orchestra marked the memorial’s launch on Friday.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/prague-stations-conversion-to-holocaust-memorial-underway/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=2fc8911b4f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_08_12_47&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-2fc8911b4f-55812549