Category Archive: CNN

High school plastered with swastikas after Holocaust survivor visit

By Stephanie Becker, CNN

(CNN)Flyers with Nazi swastikas were posted at a California school just days after a Holocaust survivor shared her firsthand horrors with students who had posted anti-Semitic photographs during a party.Ten flyers were discovered at Newport Harbor High School on Sunday morning. Police were called and the flyers were removed. While posting the flyers is not a crime, Newport Beach police are investigating.School principal Sean Boulton said in a statement: “Again we condemn all acts of anti-Semitism and hate in all their forms. We will continue to be vigilant with our stance, and the care of our students and staff.”But one senior at the school, Max Drakeford, called the latest episode “super disheartening — a step backward.”Drakeford, whose grandmother survived the Holocaust, said the posters “send a message that we aren’t welcome at our own school.”

Katrina Foley, mayor of the neighboring city of Costa Mesa, where the party was held, said she felt there was a sinister motive.”That tells me that there is a small group of people who want to intimidate students from speaking out. We should not allow that to happen, she told CNN’s Sara Sidner. “They are trying to intimidate an entire community from speaking out.”Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who has been working with the school district to educate students about the Holocaust, said he believed the posters were put up by an outside group, not students.He had been alarmed by the participation of some Jewish students in the initial incident on March 3 when teenagers posted photos of themselves with arms raised in a Nazi salute around a swastika made of plastic cups. “The fact that they didn’t stop it is disturbing to me.”

Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, spoke to children who posted photos online with Nazi imagery.

Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, spoke to children who posted photos online with Nazi imagery.

After the images were shared online and reported in the media, Mintz helped to bring Eva Schloss, an Auschwitz survivor and stepsister of Anne Frank, to talk to the school.Schloss was brutally honest about the horrors she and other teenagers endured at the hands of the Nazis. She told the students about the Nazi gassing of Jewish people and targeting of disabled people and their children.Those who were there say many of the teenagers involved with the viral pictures were crying. Many of the students have also written open letters of apology to the Jewish community, the city, the school district, friends and family.

Students wrote letters of apology for their actions at the party.

Students wrote letters of apology for their actions at the party.

In the series of letters obtained by CNN, the authors said they take responsibility and did not consider the impact of the Nazi imagery.The person who took the photos and posted them on Snapchat wrote: “I had the opportunity to step up and voice that what was going on was not right. I also had the choice to leave but I did not and for that I am so very sorry.”Another wrote: “Please give us the chance to show who we really are. We can’t erase what we did, but we have to try to make it better and show you we are not the people we seemed to be during a few minutes of stupidity.”Even as the posters were being discovered on Sunday, Mintz was with some of the students from the photo at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where they met another Holocaust survivor.She reminded the students that when she was their age, she was in a concentration camp, Mintz said. And he said he believed the interventions were having an impact.”I’ve seen amazing things from these students,” he said. “They really want to be outspoken advocates against hate. These kids are being transformed.”

The man who got justice for the girl in the red coat

By Elie Honig

A child's red coat fading from her father's view is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

A child’s red coat fading from her father’s view is a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, is a CNN legal analyst and a Rutgers University scholar. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)Fifty-seven years later, Gabriel Bach still pauses to compose himself when he tells the story of the girl in the red coat. Bach took time to speak with me last week about his experience as one of three Israeli prosecutors who tried the notorious Nazi logistics director Adolf Eichmann for war crimes in Jerusalem in 1961.

Bach, now 91, still remembers the testimony of one particular Holocaust survivor. Responding to Bach’s questioning, the survivor, Dr. Martin Foldi, described how he was transported in a cattle car from Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944 with his wife, son and daughter. Upon arrival, two lines formed. A Nazi guard signaled for Foldi to go right and Foldi’s wife, son and daughter to go left.
Foldi had recently bought a red coat for his daughter, who was 2½ years old. When Foldi looked up a few moments after being separated from his family, he could no longer see his wife or son in the distance. But, Bach recalls, Foldi testified he could see “that little red dot getting smaller and smaller — this is how my family disappeared from my life.”

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig interviews retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach in Jerusalem.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig interviews retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach in Jerusalem.

Like any good prosecutor, Bach tried to maintain an unflappable demeanor. However, even in a trial recounting countless colossal horrors, Bach said the testimony about the red coat was the “only minute of the trial … I suddenly couldn’t utter a sound.” Aware that the judges were waiting for him to continue and that television cameras were rolling, Bach pretended to shuffle papers on his desk to allow himself a moment to recover.
Bach’s life story is particularly relevant today given the rising tide of ethnic and racial intolerance— and extremist attacks borne of such hatred — in the United States and across the globe. More than five decades ago, as the whole world watched, Bach faced down Eichmann, an infamous Nazi officer who perpetrated genocide on a nearly unthinkable scale, in a courtroom in Israel. The lessons from the Eichmann trial — about the rule of law, the quest for justice and the dangers posed by ethnic hatred — still resonate today.
Eichmann was known as the “architect” of the Holocaust because he was responsible for identifying, gathering and transporting millions of Jews and others to concentration camps across Europe. Bach refers to Eichmann as the “director of the Holocaust” because of his central role in planning and carrying out the execution of millions of innocents.

Prosecuting the architect of the Holocaust

American forces captured Eichmann at the end of World War II, but he escaped from a prison camp in 1946. He remained in hiding while an international manhunt ensued. Fourteen years after Eichmann’s escape, Israeli intelligence agents captured him in Argentina in 1960 (as depicted in several books and movies, including 2018’s “Operation Finale“) and then transported him to Jerusalem for trial.
The trial began in April 1961. Bach led the prosecution team’s investigation, gathering witnesses, documents, film and other evidence from around the globe. He presented testimony from numerous witnesses, including survivors with remarkable stories; one had been a young child who was let out of a locked gas chamber just before execution to help unload a delivery of potatoes that had arrived at the camp. Bach felt it was important that the court hear from at least one survivor from every Nazi-occupied country.

Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust's "architect," goes on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 after Israel captured him.

Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust’s “architect,” goes on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 after Israel captured him.

Over four months, the world watched as Bach and his colleagues methodically laid out the proof of Eichmann’s crimes. During the trial, Eichmann sat inside a bulletproof glass box. Bach sat just feet away at counsel’s table. Bach recalls that, throughout the trial, Eichmann was stoic and unemotional.
Eichmann and his court-appointed attorney maintained during the trial that he merely followed orders from his Nazi superiors. Hannah Arendt, who covered the trial for The New Yorker, later contended in her controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that Eichmann embodied the “banality of evil.” Arendt wrote, “Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth. … Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. … He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing.”
Bach responds to Arendt’s conclusion first with visceral disgust — he calls her view “rubbish” — and then with the methodical precision of a skilled prosecutor. Bach notes that Eichmann declared after the Holocaust (but before the 1961 trial) that he regretted not having done more to kill Jews. Bach then reels off examples where Eichmann took pains to prevent any person from being spared or shown mercy.
In one instance, a German general requested that a French Jewish man who was an expert in radar technology be spared so his knowledge could be utilized; Eichmann rejected the request and ordered the man deported to a concentration camp. Bach also notes that Eichmann believed it was imperative to kill children, to prevent the maturation of future generations of Jews. Arendt can have her theorizing; Bach is secure resting on the hard facts.

Eichmann stands in a protective glass booth flanked by Israeli police during his 1961 war crimes trial.

Eichmann stands in a protective glass booth flanked by Israeli police during his 1961 war crimes trial.

At the end of the trial, a three-judge panel convicted Eichmann of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offenses, and sentenced him to death. Eichmann appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, where Bach successfully defended the verdict and sentence. Eichmann was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962. Bach was offered the opportunity to witness the execution but declined.
Bach does not seek to cast himself in an angelic glow, candidly acknowledging that “I was so much full of hatred for this man (Eichmann).” Bach takes pride, however, that despite the intense emotion surrounding the case, Eichmann was tried in accordance with established rule of law and principles of fairness. Bach, who tried many cases as prosecutor and defense attorney before the Eichmann trial, notes that “we wanted to handle this case like we handled any other case.”
Indeed, Eichmann, the most notorious of all criminals, was afforded the same rights as other defendants in Israel at the time (which also are familiar to the American criminal justice system): the right to competent defense counsel, paid for by the state; the right to see the evidence against him in advance; the right to evidence that might be helpful to the defense; the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and to call his own witnesses; and the right to appeal. Bach understood that “it was important for history’s sake that every point of legal decency had to be followed.”

‘Always sort of just one step ahead’

At 91, Bach sees that he has lived an almost impossibly charmed life. Bach grew up in Berlin, where he attended the 1936 Olympics and sat so close to Adolf Hitler that he says he saw Hitler leave his private box in anger after Jesse Owens sprinted to a gold medal. Bach’s Jewish family fled from Germany for the Netherlands just weeks before Kristallnacht — when the rising Nazi party destroyed Jewish homes and properties and killed dozens of German Jews — in November 1938.
His family then left the Netherlands one month before the Nazis invaded in 1940 and moved to the territory that would later become Israel. Bach was bar mitzvahed while in transit, on board the ship Patria — which, on its next journey, was sunk by a bomb placed on board by Zionists — claiming the lives of more than 250 people. Bach reflects that he and his family were “always sort of just one step ahead.”

Bach holds a photo as he tours the 2011 exhibit "Facing Justice -- Adolf Eichmann on Trial" in Berlin.

Bach holds a photo as he tours the 2011 exhibit “Facing Justice — Adolf Eichmann on Trial” in Berlin.

After the Eichmann trial, Bach went on to a distinguished legal career, including 15 years as a justice on the Israeli Supreme Court. He now lives a quiet, happy life with his wife in Jerusalem. They have three grown children (one of whom has passed) and eight grandchildren. In his advanced age, Bach still has a sparkle in his eye, an easy laugh and a natural warmth. He has a steel trap memory for the details of the Eichmann trial and a deep faith in and respect for the rule of law.
Bach has spoken about his life and the Eichmann trial countless times on five continents, in countries as disparate as Brazil, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines. He has spoken many times in Germany, including in Berlin at the Parliament, where he was moved by the warm reception he received. In Israel, he is a national hero and was greeted at a recent speaking appearance with a thunderous standing ovation from a sellout crowd.

While many people look to Bach for inspiration, he does not purport to have an easy answer to the growing hatein the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Nor can he fathom why so many people know little or nothingabout the Holocaust or doubt that it ever happened.

He does, however, hold out hope that the Eichmann trial will stand through history as an unambiguous condemnation of ethnic hatred and violence. “The fact that this terrible thing happened should never be forgotten,” Bach says. “And everything should be done to teach young people and older people to prevent something like that from happening in the future. That is my hope.”

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.