Category Archive: Legislation

Maryland legislature spurs congressional action on Shoah

It isn’t often that states get to weigh in on the Holocaust. In 2011, Maryland did. Keolis, a Rockville-based subsidiary of the French national railroad, bid on a contract to provide commuter rail service in suburban D.C. In a groundbreaking move, the state legislature managed to block the contract with a special legislative provision.
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Criminalizing mass-murder: 65 years after the UN’s first condemnation of genocide

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft
On December 11, 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 96 (I) which declared genocide, defined as “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups,” to be “a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices – whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds – are punishable.” This resolution was adopted in the shadow of the annihilation of approximately 6,000,000 European Jews as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” and less than two months after ten leaders of the Third Reich had been executed at Nuremberg for “crimes against humanity.”
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Lawsuit over ‘Jew or not Jew’ iPhone app dropped

PARIS — French anti-racism groups dropped a lawsuit Thursday against Apple Inc. over an iPhone app called “Jew or not Jew?” The app’s designer, Johann Levy, decided to remove it. The app let users consult a database of celebrities and public figures to see if they are Jewish or not.
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Maryland Holocaust survivors take rail fight to Congress

It wasn’t until Ellen Lightman began to take care of her mother in her final years that she learned that the frail woman used her nightly prayers to whisper words of their family’s painful past.
“Every night, she prayed that the last few seconds of her parents’ life went quickly,” said the Baltimore County woman, whose grandparents, great-grandparents and aunt were killed in the Holocaust. “Those last few seconds were in the gas chambers.”
“They never would have gotten there had they not been transported by the railroad,” she adds, wihout pause.
More than six decades after World War II, survivors of the Holocaust and descendants of its victims are waging a battle with the French railroad over history and fairness.
At issue is whether the rail company — the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, or SNCF — can be held liable for transporting some 76,000 Jews and others to Nazi death camps.
Lightman and others who are fighting SNCF are now hopeful they can leverage a legislative victory in the Maryland General Assembly this year into momentum for a stalled bill in Congress that would open the company to reparation lawsuits.
Though the legislation has failed in the past, advocates are citing Maryland’s new law as they search for new co-sponsors on Capitol Hill to help push the measure forward.
Two lawmakers, including Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican, signed on last week to bring the number of supporters to 43.
“We’re trying to bring closure,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who has backed the bill in the past and is doing so again this year. “Those who are victims have the right to get information made available so that we can bring closure to that chapter in history.”
But the debate has raised difficult-to-answer questions about French culpability for the crimes of the Nazis. After the Germans invaded France in 1940, they installed a collaborationist government in Vichy and seized the rail system. Holocaust survivors and SNCF have argued fiercely over whether rail officials were coerced by the Nazis or were willing partners.
For the past decade, 650 Holocaust survivors, including 11 in Maryland, have pursued the company in federal court. The group sued SNCF in 2001, arguing that the company knew of the packed and squalid conditions Jews were forced to endure in the rail cars.
The lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court but was dismissed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which limits plaintiffs’ ability to sue foreign governments. The company has argued in U.S. courts that it is an arm of the French government; its critics have maintained it is a separate entity.
The legislation pending in Congress would end that debate by lifting the protection from the company.

Germany Bans its largest neo-Nazi association

Germany has banned its largest neo-Nazi association, the HNG, which supports prisoners with far-right views and their families, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday, the government’s latest step to curb the influence of radical groups.
The Help Organization for National Political Prisoners and their Families (HNG) is, say German authorities, a threat to society and works against the constitution.
With the slogan “A front inside and outside,” the HNG seeks to reinforce prisoners’ right-wing views and motivate them to continue their struggle against the system, said the ministry.
“It is no longer acceptable that imprisoned right-wing extremists are being strengthened by the HNG in their aggressive stance against the free, democratic order,” Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in a statement.
“By rejecting the democratic constitutional state and glorifying National Socialism, the HNG tried to keep right wing radical criminals in their own milieu,” the ministry said.
The group, founded in 1979, has some 600 members. The ban follows raids in which police seized material from leading HNG members across Germany.
Although far-right groups attract most support in the eastern states, where unemployment is high and prospects few, the raids took place in western states including Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said that far-right groups have in the last few years sought to use the financial crisis and euro zone debt crisis to prove that the capitalist system has failed.
The ban comes two weeks after the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which espouses the end of parliamentary democracy, regained seats in the state assembly of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is also represented in Saxony.
Right wing groups in Germany, including the NPD, are more radical than populist, anti-immigration parties in the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden which have enjoyed greater success at the ballot box.
Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution describes the NPD as racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist and says its statements prove its inspiration comes from the Nazis. The party says the German constitution is a “diktat” imposed by victorious Western powers after World War Two.
Germany has banned several right-wing groups in the last few years but critics say the government needs to do more to weed out extreme views which permeate society.
“It is a sensible, if overdue, step to ban a criminal Organization like the HNG,” said Anetta Kahane, head of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation which supports projects to boost civil society.
“But we need to do more to educate people so that they can resist right-wing ideas. For example, judges and the police need to be educated to deal with extremists,” she told Reuters.
“The problem of neo-Nazis has not gone away.”
The police and judicial systems in several eastern German states have been condemned for failing to recognize and tackle the problem of neo-Nazi crime.

Massachusetts Democrat apologizes for “Hitler” remark

A Massachusetts state lawmaker apologized on Thursday for a remark comparing a Republican proposal that would require lobbyists to wear ID badges to the Nazi tattooing of Jews during the Holocaust.House Republicans last week proposed a set of ethics reforms in response to the recent corruption conviction of former Massachusetts Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and an associate. Among the proposals was a plan for lobbyists to wear visible identification badges to seek access to House members or staff. John Binienda, a Democrat from Worcester, told the State House News Service on Wednesday that the ID badges plan was “revolting,” and compared it to Adolf Hitler having Jewish people tattooed in concentration camps.The lawmaker, chairman of the Massachusetts House Rules Committee, recanted after his comments sparked outrage.”Yesterday, I made an inappropriate analogy regarding a proposed change to the House Rules,” Binienda said in a statement. “No comparison can be made between the Nazi regime and a rules proposal made by members in good faith.”

Hungary ‘deceitful’ over Holocaust

Leading intellectuals and a Jewish leader have rounded on Hungary over the country’s new constitution, which attempts to whitewash the country’s involvement in the Holocaust.The preamble to the new constitution, which will gain legal force next year, states that the country lost its independence when it was invaded by Nazi Germany in March 1944, implying that the state therefore bears no responsibility for the deportation of some half a million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.The new constitution could affect the attitudes of the courts to future restitution claims arising from Holocaust atrocities.Peter Feldmájer, chairman of the Association of Hungarian Jewish Religious Communities, said that the Hungarian Holocaust began long before the German invasion, and that the Nazis were welcomed by an independent government and a cheering population.Leading historian Krisztián Ungváry said: “All generations following the Holocaust still bear the responsibility to confront the deeds of the past. This process is now substantially undermined by the new constitution.”

Nazi death camp museum closes amid lack of funding

Warsaw – A Nazi death camp museum in Sobibor, eastern Poland, has been closed because it has not received enough funding from the regional government to remain open, the museum spokesman said Thursday.’Without money, the museum cannot function,’ museum spokesman Marek Bem told German Press Agency dpa.Some 250,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed at the Nazi German extermination camp Sobibor, located in occupied Poland during World War II. John Demjanjuk, sentenced last month to five years in prison as an accessory to more than 28,000 murders, was a guard at the camp. The Ukrainian-born 91-year-old was freed pending a possible appeal and was moved to a nursing home near Munich. The museum requires some 1 million zloty (361,000 dollars) a year to keep running, but has only received some 420,000 zloty this year, reported the daily Rzeczpospolita. The exhibits and tours cannot remain open because museum staff have been reduced by about half. The facility was slated to become a state museum in 2012 and receive funding from the Ministry of Culture, but discussions with the ministry have not yet brought any results. Some 20,000 people a year visit the memorial site.