Category Archive: JTA

Polish senator suspended for klezmer-themed video of Nazi violence to Jews

(JTA) — Poland’s ruling party suspended a senator who posted online footage from a Nazi propaganda movie depicting violence against Jews to the sounds of klezmer music.

On Thursday, the Law and Justice party suspended Waldemar Bonkowski for posting the video on Facebook earlier in the week amid an acrimonious argument between many Poles and Jews over the Polish government’s passing this month of a law criminalizing blaming Poland for Nazi crimes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested the law and called “outrageous” a remark by his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, who said in defending the law that there were also Jewish perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Morawiecki in an interview Feb. 18 was addressing claims that the law whitewashes complicity by some Poles in the Holocaust.

The debate around the law, which is opposed also by the World Jewish Congress and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel, has generated an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric in Poland, according to Jonny Daniels, a commemoration activist from the From the Depths group with friendly ties to Morawiecki. Bonkowski’s post, which Daniels said was “hateful,” is part of that increase.

Daniels, who had slammed Morawiecki’s remark as a form of “Holocaust denial,” welcomed what he called the “swift action” by Law and Justice.

But provocative and “extremist rhetoric was rising on both sides,” Daniels added, citing the production of a video posted this week by the Ruderman Family Foundation that featured Jews saying the words “Polish Holocaust” in promoting a petition urging the United States to suspend its ties with Poland. The film was taken offline following protests by Polish Jews and non-Jews.

Also last week, 23 Jewish groups signed a statement saying their members felt less safe in Poland following the fallout of the debate.

“I understand how someone could feel afraid,” Daniels said. He added, however, that the hate speech that erupted in the wake of the debate has yet to lead to physical violence.


Jewish Republicans want congressman to admit his State of the Union guest is a Holocaust denier

(JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition called on Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida to acknowledge that his guest at the State of the Union speech is a Holocaust denier.

In a BuzzFeed News profile of Gaetz, the Republican congressman said that “Chuck Johnson is not a Holocaust denier and he’s not an anti-Semite. He’s a provoker, I should’ve vetted him better before inviting him to the State of the Union, I regret that I didn’t. That’s my fault. I take responsibility for it. But he is not a Holocaust denier.”

Gaetz invited Johnson to attend the State of the Union after his father fell ill and he had an extra ticket. Johnson had visited Gaetz’s office the morning of the address and angled for the ticket. The congressman said he thought Johnson seemed “polite.”

“This organization is deeply troubled by the comments from Charles C. Johnson, and it is incredibly important for the congressman to acknowledge he is a Holocaust denier and has extensive writings that attest to that and that it was wrong to bring him to the State of the Union,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told BuzzFeed in a statement. “We are deeply troubled by any inference that our organization believes otherwise.”

Johnson denied the Holocaust in an “Ask Reddit” session from January 2017. Asked about the “Jewish Question” and the Holocaust, Johnson replied, “I do not and never have believed the 6 million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic.”

A Jewish friend of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg, the elected tax collector of Seminole County, told BuzzFeed that the congressman is a “champion of Israel and the Jewish people.”

“We may have to retroactively throw him a bar mitzvah,” he added.


Poland isn’t the only country trying to police speech about the Holocaust

Several Eastern European nations have introduced legislation that limits discourse, though they have seen far less scrutiny than Warsaw

Veterans of the Latvian Legion, a force that was commanded by the German Nazi Waffen SS during WWII, and their sympathizers carry flowers as they walk to the Monument of Freedom in Riga, Latvia, March 16, 2016. (AFP/Ilmars Znotins)

JTA — In 2015, Ukraine’s president signed a law whose critics say stifles debate on the historical record of World War II and whitewashes local perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Law 2538-1 criminalized any rhetoric insulting to the memory of anti-communist partisans. And it celebrates the legacy of such combatants – ostensibly including the ones who murdered countless Jewish and Polish citizens while collaborating with Nazi Germany.

The law generated some backlash, including an open letter by more than 70 historians who said it “contradicts the right to freedom of speech,” ignores complicity in the Holocaust and would “damage Ukraine’s national security.”

But as with similar measures in Europe’s ex-communist nations, the Ukraine law generated little opposition or even attention internationally — especially when compared to the loud objections to a similar measure in Poland that was signed into law on Tuesday by the president. The law had passed both houses of parliament in recent days. The United States and Israel joined historians and Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in decrying the bill.

“The Ukrainian and Polish laws are similar, but in Ukraine’s case we didn’t see anything even close” to the avalanche of condemnations that Poland received, said Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and a longtime campaigner against Holocaust revision in Ukraine. “I wish we had; maybe this law could have been stopped in Ukraine.”

To activists like Dolinsky, the singling out of Poland reflects the ongoing politicization of the debate on Eastern Europe’s bloody World War II history. They say the conversation is distorted by geopolitical tensions involving Russia, populism, ignorance and unresolved national traumas.

There are clear similarities between the Ukrainian and Polish laws, according to Alex Ryvchin, a Kiev-born Australian-Jewish journalist and author who has written about the politics of memory in Eastern Europe.

“Both seek to use the legitimacy and force of law to enshrine an official narrative of victimhood, heroism and righteousness while criminalizing public discussion of historical truths that contradict or undermine these narratives,” he said. Yet, he noted, “The reaction to the Polish law has indeed dwarfed the response to persistent state revisionism elsewhere in Europe in spite of the fact that the rate of collaboration was generally lower in Poland than in Ukraine and Latvia.”

The Baltic nations of Lithuania and Latvia were pioneers in nationalist legislation that limits discourse about the Holocaust in their territories. Critics say these laws also shift the blame for the murder of Jews, which was done with local helpers, to Nazi Germany alone. They also seem to equate the Nazi genocide with political repression by the Soviet Union – which many in the former Soviet Union blame on Jewish communists.

In 2010 Lithuania — a country where Nazi collaborators virtually wiped out a Jewish community of 250,000 — amended its criminal code, prescribing up to two years in jail to anyone who “denies or grossly underestimates” the crime of genocide or “other crimes against humanity or war crimes committed by the USSR or Nazi Germany against Lithuanian residents.”

Similar legislation in Latvia from 2014 imposes up to five years in jail for those who deny the role of “the foreign powers that have perpetrated crimes against Latvia and the Latvian nation,” without mentioning the involvement of Latvian SS volunteers in murdering nearly all of the country’s 70,000 Jews.

The denial of local culpability during the Holocaust is at the root of opposition to Poland’s law, which sets a maximum of six years in jail for “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation or the Polish state of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich” or ”grossly diminishes the responsibility of the actual perpetrators.” On Tuesday, President Andrzej Duda said he would sign the laws (which he did later in the day), finalizing them, but also refer them for review by Poland’s highest court.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, nominating Mateusz Morawiecki to be prime minister at the presidential palace in Warsaw, Dec. 11, 2017. Both support the controversial law on the term “Polish death camps.” (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past has been criticized for not calling out his country’s Eastern European allies on these issues, called the Polish legislation “baseless” and said Israel opposed it. The US State Department in a statement suggested it could have “repercussions” for bilateral relations with Poland.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s scheduled visit to Poland this week was canceled after he criticized the law, which Israel’s embassy in Poland said was generating anti-Semitic hate speech in the media.

Back in Israel, the Polish Embassy condemned what it called ignorant remarks by Yair Lapid, a prominent opposition leader. Citing his credentials as the son of a Holocaust survivor, Lapid said the Polish law is designed to hide how Poland was “a partner in the Holocaust.”

Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said for their part that they understand the Polish frustration with terms like “Polish death camps,” which seem to shift the blame for Nazi war crimes to Poland – one of the few Nazi-occupied countries where the Nazis did not allow any measure of self-rule or integrate locals into the genocide.

And the term is especially offensive in Poland, where the Nazis killed at least 1.9 million non-Jews in addition to at least 3 million Jews.

But, many Jewish groups added, the legislation in Poland ignores how many Poles betrayed or killed Jews and is therefore detrimental to the preservation of historical record and free speech.

Dolinsky in Ukraine isn’t a fan of the Polish legislation, either.

“But I don’t quite understand why it and only it provoked such a strong reaction,” he added. “We needed that strong reaction two years ago in Ukraine. This fight needs to apply to all these cases. For the pressure to be effective, it shouldn’t be selective.”

Dolinsky believes that Ukraine — which, unlike Poland, shares a border with Russia — is getting a free pass from the West because it is subjected to hostility from Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine amid ongoing psychological warfare against the Baltic nations, often involving the deployment of Russia’s mighty army around those countries in blunt loudspeaker diplomacy.

“There is a lot of Russophobic sentiment worldwide and it means international silence on countries with a conflict with Russia,” said Joseph Koren, chairman of the Latvia Without Nazism group.

“Poland and Hungary are in a different category,” agreed Dovid Katz, a scholar of Yiddish in Lithuania and longtime campaigner against Holocaust distortion there. The singling out of Poland and Hungary, he said, is “not least because the issues of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and restrictions on democratic expression in these countries have never been perceived primarily through the same binary lens of pro-and anti-Putin.”

The railway track leading to the infamous ‘Death Gate’ at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp, on November 13, 2014, in Oswiecim, Poland. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

Under that alleged cover of silence, in Ukraine and the Baltic countries there is a rapid lifting on taboos that had been in place for decades on the honoring of war criminals, even including SS volunteers who enthusiastically participated in the mass killings of Jews and Poles.

Largely ignored by the international media, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis last week gave the final approval for a law that offers financial benefits to all World War II veterans – including SS volunteers who murdered Jews. Latvia is the only country in the world known to have an annual march by SS veterans, which takes place with the approval of authorities’ on the country’s national day in the center of its capital, sometimes with mainstream politicians in attendance.

Last year, the municipality of Kalush near Lviv in Ukraine decided to name a street for Dmytro Paliiv, a commander of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the 1st Galician.

Ukraine’s state television observed a moment of silence for the first time last year for Symon Petliura, a nationalist killed by a Jewish communist for Petliura’s role in the murder of 35,000 to 50,000 Jews in a series of pogroms between 1918 and 1921, when Petliura was head of the Ukrainian People’s Republic.

“There is less willingness to speak out on Ukraine in media, in the scientific community and in Western governments, so it seems,” Dolinsky said.

But this alleged turning of a blind eye, he added, is a disservice. “Ukraine needs to join Europe as a civilized member of that family of nations. And for that to happen, it needs to speak honestly and openly about its history,” he said.

To Ryvchin, the Australian author, the “particularly forceful reaction to the Polish law is likely because Poland is seen as the epicenter of the Holocaust,” he said. The Germans built extermination camps only in Poland, according to Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff.

“Any attempt to distort or disguise what happened in Poland is seen as a particularly egregious attack on the history of the Holocaust and the memories of the dead,” Ryvchin said.

Ironically, Poland is perhaps singled out for criticism because of the country’s vocal civil society and the lively debate it is generating over the politics of memory, Katz suggested.

Even today, he said, Poland and Hungary “have robust liberal movements that themselves counter official government policy on many issues — unlike the Baltics, where dissent is often quashed using the full force of the law.”


Ancient Synagogue, Which Nazis Gutted, Restored, Returned to Amsterdam Jews

The 677-year-old Maastricht Synagogue, the second oldest in Europe, which was looted and partially destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, was returned to the surviving Jewish community here today, completely restored at the expense of the municipality.

During the occupation, the Nazis removed from the synagogue 500 liturgical objects made of copper, silver and gold, wrecked the Ark and inflicted structural damage on the building. The synagogue and religious objects have now been restored in every detail. The Maastricht Synagogue was completed in 1290. It is exceeded in age only by the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which was built in the early part of the 13th Century. But the remnants of the historic Jewish community here is small.

Also but a fraction of its former size is the Jewish community of Edam, where a monument was unveiled today in memory of the Jews who were deported by the Nazis during the occupation.


While in jail, an Austrian historian wrote a book that slams his country’s Holocaust restitution system

By Cnaan Liphshiz

VIENNA (JTA) — If Stephan Templ’s trial and imprisonment in Austria were meant to silence his criticism of the country’s Holocaust restitution system, then his prosecution was clearly a failure.

Templ is an Austrian-Jewish historian of the Holocaust who has written critically about his country since 1995.

In 2015, he was sent to jail for nearly a year on controversial fraud charges tied to his family’s own claim for compensation — and spent his time in prison diving even deeper into his area of expertise.

The result is a new book that for the first time chronicles how modern-day Austria gave its seal of approval for flawed restitution practices that were overseen by former Nazis. Those practices, Templ shows, in essence validated Nazi-era policies that were used to rob Austrian Jews of what little compensation they sought to receive for vast assets that they had been forced to sell to Aryans.

“The wrongly imprisoned experience a special kind of frustration: Your thoughts get into a cycle about where you are and who put you there,” Templ, 57, told JTA. His sentence was decried as a miscarriage of justice by dozens of leading Holocaust historians.

Templ was convicted of fraud for not listing an aunt on his survivor mother’s restitution claim, which he filled out for her. Neither Templ nor his mother wrote that they were the only claimants to the property. Austria has no law requiring restitution applicants to list other relatives. In previous official correspondence about the claim, Templ did list his aunt, which he argues means he had indeed informed the Republic of Austria of her existence.

The 75 historians, including Americans Deborah Lipstadt and Michael Berenbaum, suggested in a joint statement that Templ’s prosecution looked like a vendetta by the Austrian judiciary, which the Freedom Barometer index of 2016 ranked as the least independent in Western Europe.

The Anti-Defamation League also protested Templ’s sentence, as did the human rights lawyer Robert Amsterdam and Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury who helped set up Austria’s restitution system.

Efraim Zuroff, Eastern Europe director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA about the case: “It looks like revenge, like they wanted to get back at him for his criticism. I’m not a jurist but it looks like an injustice.” Templ currently is facing a civil libel suit by Claire Fritsch, a legal adviser to the restitution authority who served as the main witness in his criminal court case. She claims she was libeled by his defense team’s attempts to undermine her testimony.

In Templ’s English-language book — which is titled “Austria’s Living Ghost” and is scheduled for publication online ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 — he examines the work of Austria’s Arbitration Panel for in Rem Restitution, a body set up in 2002 to review the restitution work done immediately after World War II on properties that in 2001 were in the state’s possession.

Until the 1990s, Austria had claimed that it was principally a victim, not a perpetrator, of Nazism. No one has been convicted of Nazi war crimes in Austria in more than 35 years, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. And whereas people with a Nazi past were removed from positions of influence in neighboring Germany, in Austria they were allowed to serve as judges, teachers and even restitution officials. (Walther Kastner, for example, was a former Nazi official who was entrusted with advising on restitution issues in the 1940s.)

Austria even had a former Nazi, Kurt Waldheim, as president until 1992 — the year that Austrian officials began to drop the victim attitude, which is now described as a “myth” on official Austrian government websites.

But that myth has had far-reaching implications for Austria, said Templ, who in 2001 led groups around Vienna on tours of stolen Jewish property. He pointed out building after building, using a loudspeaker to name the families whose ancestors bought the assets for a fraction of their true worth from Jews fleeing for their lives.

“The lack of de-Nazification is the reason Austria now has in government, for the second time already, a party that was founded by an SS officer,” he said of the far-right Freedom Party, which joined the coalition last month.

Austria’s victim myth also tainted how the Austrian state handled the return of Jews from concentration camps, prosecuted Nazi war criminals and settled restitution issues. Concerns about this process led to a 2002 review by the Arbitration Panel, as part of a restitution treaty that Austria signed with the United States in 2001.

Thanks to the treaty, Austria has paid at least $670 million in compensation. But even that may have been the tip of the iceberg in a country that had at least 200,000 Jews before the Holocaust, many of them wealthy.

Templ’s research shows that out of nearly 2,000 restitution cases handled in the 1940s and 1950s, the Arbitration Panel reopened and declared unjust a total of only nine cases. It intervened in another 18 cases that had not been the subject of a claim, he said.

“This seemed to me like an astonishingly low number, considering the prevalence of injustice that went on in 1940s and 1950s restitution,” Templ said.

Take, for instance, the case of Anna Freud, the daughter of the famed Viennese psychoanalyst. Following her claim for restitution for a handsome estate that the Nazis stole from her family in 1938, she received in the 1950s a sum equivalent to $80, Templ’s research shows. However, that property was not reviewed in 2002, because the estate was privately owned and therefore not in the purview of the Arbitration Panel on state-held properties.

“So in prison, I set out to review for myself the claims that the Arbitration Panel had reviewed before me,” Templ, a bespectacled intellectual with a wry sense of humor and a passion for carpentry, said during a rare visit to Vienna (following his release from prison in 2015, Templ is spending most of his time in his Prague home, in what he terms self-exile).

The findings, he said, surprised even him.

One case deemed fair by the Arbitration Panel involved an apartment building in Vienna’s Alserbach Street owned by the Stianssy family. The Aryan buyers paid only 38 percent of its real worth in 1939. Of that sum, the Nazi state stole 80 percent through racist “emigration taxes” devised to defund Jewish sellers. The other 20 percent went to a frozen account and from there to the coffers of the Third Reich, his research shows. In 1951, Austrian restitution officials declined to return the “emigration taxes” to the Stianssy family, essentially validating their extraction.

Yet the Arbitration Panel in its 2014 review stated that it “cannot conclude that the settlement reached in 1951 represents an extreme injustice.” In so doing, Templ writes, “the Panel confirms the injustice.”

Leopold Stiassny died in Prague on Nov. 20, 1939. His wife, Martha Stiassny, was murdered in Auschwitz. Three of their close relatives were murdered by 1945.

Among the dozens of reviews flagged by Templ is a 2012 case concerning the sale of a forest 45 miles southwest of Vienna by the Hartenstein family. It too was not found to be “an extreme injustice,” even thought the family by 1957 received less than half of the land’s value, according to the panel. Templ’s research suggests they only got 10 percent of the property’s real value.

“I expect that now that I’ve been jailed, my criticism of Austria will be seen as a vendetta,” Templ said. “And I guess I have an agenda — but the numbers and the facts do not, and they tell a story that is much bigger and more important than my own.”

Queried by JTA on these cases, Josef Aicher, chairman of the Arbitration Panel for In Rem Restitution, stood by his organization’s findings.

“To assess ‘extreme injustice’ the Arbitration Panel has developed a complex case law,” he wrote, based on “restrictions on freedom of contract and discrepancy in value: The more the two criteria are pronounced, the more likely it is that an extreme injustice exists.”

He added that the Arbitration Panel has so far issued 138 recommendations for restitution with an estimated total value of $59 million. According to Templ, all these recommendations pertain to only 28 assets.

Citing independent appraisals, Aicher said that “virtually all real estate that had been confiscated by the state was restituted in its entirety after the war” as well as 60 percent of the properties sold under duress.

Crunching these numbers allowed Templ to find purpose and calm his nerves in prison, he said. But it wasn’t easy.

On a rare afternoon off from prison — Templ served time in a medium-security facility that allowed some inmates brief day passes — he “suddenly became very aggressive” toward a friend who came to visit him.

“When you see that life goes on while you’re stuck there, it releases some anger in you,” he said.

On one of his first days in prison, a longtime prisoner showed him around the place, he recalled. “When we reached the showers, he told me: These showers aren’t for you because they have water coming out” – a remark Templ believes was an anti-Semitic reference to Nazi gas chambers. Another prisoner harassed him with reference to Israel, he said.

But the troubles stopped when Muslim Chechen inmates, who are known for their ruthlessness and mob connections, discovered he could speak Russian and could therefore help them with German-language correspondence, he said. “As soon as the other inmates saw me hanging out with the Chechens, suddenly the behavior toward me changed.”

Asked whether he considers himself a victim, Templ said: “Judge for yourself. Victim is a word with considerable resonance in modern-day Austria. And a little bit of irony, too.”


At this Holocaust museum, you can speak with holograms of survivors

By Ellen Braunstein

A holographic image of Holocaust survivor Sam Harris on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill. (Ron Gould)

SKOKIE, Ill. (JTA) — In an otherwise darkened theater, viewers gasped when they saw what appeared to be a seated 83-year-old man wearing a light green button-down shirt and khaki pants.

Aaron Elster of Chicago seemed to be answering questions about his unbelievable escape from the Sokolov ghetto in Poland as a 10-year-old. Elster was forced to hide in a dark, filthy attic for two years during World War II.

“Why didn’t your sisters run away with you [from the ghetto]?” asked Suri Johnson, 11, of Wisconsin. A docent repeated the question into a microphone.

“It was an impossibility,” Elster responded. “There were hundreds of people guarded by Ukrainian soldiers with rifles … There was no way they could have run. I crawled behind the people on my stomach. They didn’t see me.”

The testimony was remarkable, moving. But it wasn’t the real Elster they were seeing. Instead the audience was interacting with a holographic image of the Holocaust survivor that was created two years before.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located in this suburb about 15 miles north of Chicago, is the first to permanently showcase the New Dimensions in Testimony oral history project, which has created holographic images from extensive interviews of 15 Holocaust survivors. The images of the seven survivors from Chicago are shown on rotation at the center.

The images are produced by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, along with the USC Shoah Foundation — a nonprofit that famed director Steven Spielberg founded in 1994 to preserve Holocaust and other genocide survivor testimonies. The museum’s new $5 million center, titled Take A Stand, opened in October.

(The images currently on display are technically not true holograms — they are the product of two-dimensional technology and the Pepper’s ghost illusion technique — but are still vivid.)

Aaron Elster filming on a set in Los Angeles. (Ron Gould)

At the Illinois museum, visitors can find the holographic displays in a theater dedicated to the exhibit. Before any conversation happens, viewers are shown a five-minute introductory video narrated by the featured survivor. After the video, which tells the survivor’s individual story, the image leans forward and says, “But I have so much more to tell you. Now I’d like you to ask me questions.” Then it switches to interactive mode.

The hologram of each survivor can conceivably answer thousands of questions. Much like Apple’s Siri technology, the voice-recognition system responds to audience questions by picking up on key words.

After asking her question, Suri Johnson told JTA that she found the experience very “cool,” partly because she had no idea how it worked.

“It enables the most life-like conversational opportunity that you can possibly imagine,” said the museum’s CEO, Susan Abrams.

Aaron Elster stands in front of his hologram. (Ron Gould)

The project was envisioned by Heather Maio, the managing director of Conscience Display, which specializes in exhibition design and interactive storytelling. Her company typically creates realistic combat scenes, complete with visuals and dialogue, for military personnel to drill with.

Maio, who is married to Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, thought an exhibit that allowed people to casually walk up to Holocaust survivors and ask them questions could create a powerful experience.

“This kind of visual imagery and interactivity will be the norm for the next generation, and that’s what we’re preparing for,” Smith said.

The project took a toll on Elster, an insurance agency owner who has lived in Chicago since 1947. He had to fly to Los Angeles two years ago for a grueling week of interviews, in which he wore the same clothes every day and sat still in a chair for hours at a time under bright lights and cameras, answering difficult questions — 2,000 in all — that brought up a painful past.

“It was very emotional. I cried initially and I don’t take to crying,” Elster said of the first time he saw his testimony played back for him.

Smith said the project could have been successful even if each survivor were asked fewer questions. But the comprehensiveness of each testimony gave each testimony extra character depth.

“If you were just going to ask the question, ‘where were you born, or what camps were you in, or what did you feel like when you were liberated,’ we could do that quite easily in 200 questions,” Smith said. “But the point to which they say, ‘So tell me about the psychological consequences of slave labor,’ or something like that, then you have a more nuanced question, for which [the holographic display] has an answer.”

Elster, now 85, is quite pleased with the final product, and is confident his testimony will resonate with younger generations. On its own, the Illinois Holocaust museum, the third largest in the world and created partly in response to an attempt by neo-Nazis to march in this heavily Jewish suburb in the late 1970s, welcomes 60,000 students and educators annually.

“As survivors, we’re concerned and afraid that our pain, our loss, our surviving will be forgotten or homogenized,” he said. “They’ve created something that’s going to live on much after we’re gone.”

A New York Times documentary about the project, called “116 Cameras” and making the rounds of film festivals, shows the space-age contraption in which they film the survivors.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City began piloting the project in July. Its two holograms will be on display for the public through April.

Additional pilots, open to the public, are being tested at the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto and the Holocaust Museum in Houston. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., ended its pilot on Labor Day after several months. The Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, also has piloted the project and plans to install a permanent display that will open this fall.


Two Berlin museums return works to heirs of Jewish collector

(JTA) — Two Berlin museums have returned works to the heirs of a Jewish collector who liquidated them during World War II, according to the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage.

The foundation returned 11 works from the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Skulpturensammlung that had belonged to Margarete Oppenheim, whose family was forced to sell them at a deflated price to the National Socialists in 1936.

Margarete Oppenheim, widow of the chemist and industrialist Franz Oppenheim, died in 1935, six years after her husband. Her collection has been described as one of Germany’s largest and most valuable, containing works by Impressionists and small sculptures, as well as of porcelain, majolica, faience and silver work.

The state arranged for the return of the works in keeping with the 20-year-old Washington Declaration signed by 44 countries committing themselves to seeking long-lost artwork that ended up in museums and other public collections. Germany was among the signers.

Five of the 11 works returned to the Oppenheim heirs were repurchased by the museums — two paintings on Christian religious themes from the 16th-century Donau School, and three 18th-century porcelain objects produced by the Meissen and Frankenthal firms.

The foundation has overseen the return of some 350 works of art and more than 1,000 books to the heirs of persecuted Jews.

Its president, Hermann Parzinger, said in a statement that he was grateful to the heirs for their role in coming to a “fair and just solution,” and added that the foundation remained dedicated to researching the provenance of works in Berlin museums.

Imke Gielen, spokeswoman for the law firm of Rowland & Associates, said the heirs appreciated the foundation’s procedure for return of the works, as well as the “tireless efforts of the foundation” to uncover the history of the works in its collection.

According to the foundation, Margarete Oppenheim had ordered the executors of her estate to auction her works after her death “at the most appropriate moment” and reinvest the funds in her estate. But because the auction took place in May 1936, at a time when Jews were being persecuted and pressured to divest of their property at greatly deflated value, the auction is considered to have been forced and thus illegitimate, according to the Washington Declaration.

Provenance researchers have found two additional objects that Margarete Oppenheim had lent to the museums personally and were never returned.


Polish neo-Nazis thrive as authorities fail to act, Jewish community leader says

Thousands of people marching at Poland´s annual Independency Day march in Warsaw. (Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Following a television report about neo-Nazis in Poland, the leader of the country’s federation of Jewish communities said that extremists are thriving due to inaction by the government.

A TVN report over the weekend featured young men filmed displaying swastikas and speaking positively about Adolf Hitler. The report showed about 10 individuals from the Pride and Modernity group who celebrated Hitler’s birthday on April 20 at a private residence with a cake featuring a swastika glaze. They also burned a swastika made of wood.

Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, called out Polish authorities on Facebook in responding to the documentary.

“What else has to happen for us to look open our eyes, the authorities say that fascism and nazism are not tolerated in Poland,” he wrote. “I want to believe in these words, but let authorities do their job.”

Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro vowed to act tough on the group and individuals pictured, who broke the law by displaying Nazi symbols.

“After Nazi Germany attacked, millions of people were murdered in occupied Poland, including three million Poles,” Ziobro wrote.

It is estimated that the Germans killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War II, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition, the Germans murdered at least 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland.

In Poland, the term “Poles” is often used in the media and by officials to designate non-Jewish Polish citizens, whereas Jewish ones are referred to as “Jews.”

If someone “honors Adolf Hitler, who is one of the greatest criminals in history, he deserves to be treated to the full extent of the law,” Ziobro told the PAP news agency. “In such situations, the prosecutor’s office will always be firm.”

World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer in a statement welcomed the Polish government’s “swift condemnation of fascist activities.” But, he added, “Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are rising at an alarming rate in Poland, rearing their ugly heads beyond the fringes of society and into the mainstream.

“Sadly,” he added, “this was hardly an isolated incident and must not be treated as such.”

In November, during a nationalist rally on Poland’s Independence Day in Warsaw, some participants carried anti-Muslim banners and chanted anti-Semitic slogans. A total of 60,000 people attended.

Piszewski’s Union of Jewish Communities in Poland has appealed to Polish politicians for help against what his organization has called a rise in far-right activities under the right-wing Law and Justice party. Piszewski said this is creating a security threat for members of the community.

But other Jewish community organizations, including the TSKZ cultural group, are disputing the assertion. They have accused Piszewski of exaggerating the problem in Poland as part of a “political battle” with the government, as TSKZ President Artur Hoffman termed it last year.