NEW YORK — A longtime advocate for Holocaust survivors has died at age 59.
Elan Steinberg died Friday after a brief illness. His death was confirmed by Menachem Rosensaft, who is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
At the time of his death, Steinberg was a vice president for the group.
He previously served as executive director of the World Jewish Congress.
Steinberg was a leader in the campaign to obtain billions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust survivors.
Rosensaft says Steinberg fought to obtain justice from Swiss banks, European governments and others who profiteered from the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.
He said his colleague had a brilliant mind and great heart, both of which are irreplaceable.
Category Archive: Nazi Hunters
NEW YORK — A longtime advocate for Holocaust survivors has died at age 59.
Elan Steinberg, who brought what he called a new, “American style” assertiveness to the World Jewish Congress as its top executive, winning more than $1 billion from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims and challenging Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary general, over his Nazi past, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 59.
The cause was complications of lymphatic cancer, his wife, Sharon, said.
As its executive director from 1978 to 2004, Mr. Steinberg was a key strategist for the congress as it grew bolder under a younger generation of Jews. He helped organize the research, hearings, press leaks and lawsuit that led the Swiss banks to agree to pay $1.2 billion to Holocaust victims in the late 1990s.
He also ruffled feathers. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times that he applauded the congress’s “persistence,” but worried that the Swiss might begin to see Jews as “their enemy.” He said the congress’s crusade “fed into the stereotype that Jews have money, that it’s the most important thing to them.”
Even Simon Wiesenthal, the relentless hunter of Nazi war criminals, questioned the congress’s new aggressiveness when it threw itself into the Austrian presidential campaign in 1986 to try to defeat Mr. Waldheim, who was ultimately elected. Mr. Waldheim had hidden his membership in a Nazi military unit linked to atrocities.
Mr. Wiesenthal argued that Mr. Waldheim was “an opportunist” but not a war criminal. He worried that the congress, by inserting itself into Austria’s internal politics, was undoing years of patient work toward reconciling young Austrians and Jews.
Mr. Steinberg countered that electing Mr. Waldheim would stain all Austrians. “In the whole world it will be said that a former Nazi and a liar is the representative of Austria,” he said.
The tough stance was a departure for the congress, which was formed in 1936 in response to the rising Nazi threat in Europe and whose headquarters are now in New York. Mr. Steinberg himself used the word “strident” to describe his approach in taking the once-staid organization into quarrels, as it did in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan, alongside Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, visited a German cemetery in which Nazi SS soldiers were buried.
“For a long time,” Mr. Steinberg said, “the World Jewish Congress was meant to be the greatest secret of Jewish life, because the nature of diplomacy after the war was quiet diplomacy. This is a newer, American-style leadership — less timid, more forceful, unashamedly Jewish.”
Mr. Steinberg steered the congress in opposing the presence of a Carmelite convent at the site of the Auschwitz death camp and championing former slave laborers under the Nazis in their fight for compensation.
When Steven Spielberg was making the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” he wanted to shoot scenes inside a building that had been part of the Auschwitz camp, Mrs. Steinberg said. As she recounted the episode, Mr. Spielberg went to the congress and conferred with Mr. Steinberg, who told him, “You cannot film on the graves of Jews.” Mr. Spielberg instead built a replica of the building.
“Whenever Jews were in danger, or Jewish honor offended, he vigorously yet elegantly spoke up,” Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, said in a statement read at Mr. Steinberg’s funeral. “Whenever Jewish memory was attacked, he attacked the attacker.”
Elan Steinberg was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, on June 2, 1952, to Holocaust survivors. He grew up in the Brownsville and Borough Park sections of Brooklyn and was a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Brooklyn College. He received a master’s degree in political science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, then taught there.
He joined the congress in 1978 as its United Nations representative, and rose to executive director — first of the American section, then of the world body. Menachem Rosensaft, the congress’s general counsel, said Mr. Steinberg was instrumental in persuading the Vatican and Spain to recognize Israel.
Mr. Steinberg resigned in 2004 but remained a consultant to the congress’s president, Ronald S. Lauder. He was vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
In addition to his wife, the former Sharon Cohen, Mr. Steinberg, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by his children, Max, Harry and Lena Steinberg, and his brother, Alex.
Mr. Rosensaft told another story to illustrate his friend’s mix of grit and wit. Mr. Steinberg was negotiating one day with the French culture minister to recover paintings stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. The minister huffed that Mr. Steinberg knew nothing about art.
“You’re right,” Mr. Steinberg said. “I don’t know anything about art. I’m from Brooklyn. I know about stolen goods.”
According to Germany’s Demjanjuk decision, even serving as an accessory to murder is a punishable crime.
In 1986, John “Ivan” Demjanjuk was deported from the US to Israel to stand trial for committing murder and acts of extraordinary violence against humanity during the years 1942 and 1943. Dozens of Israeli Holocaust survivors identified Demjanjuk as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious prison guard at the Treblinka extermination camp.
Between November 1986 and April 1988 a special tribunal made up of Supreme Court justice Dov Levin and Jerusalem District Court judges Zvi Tal and Dalia Dorner heard the case, which was open to TV crews and took place in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.
Clearly, an effort was made to publicize the proceedings, which, like the 1962 Adolf Eichmann trial, was used as a means of confronting the horrors – and the moral lessons – of the Holocaust.
Like Eichmann, Demjanjuk was found guilty under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law of 1950 and sentenced to death by hanging – the second case of capital punishment in Israel’s history.
But Demjanjuk appealed and in 1993 the Supreme Court, sitting as an expanded five-man panel of judges, overturned the lower court’s decision. Justices Aharon Barak, Menachem Elon, Meir Shamgar, Eliezer Goldberg and Avraham Halima – basing themselves in part on new evidence that became available after the disintegration of the Soviet Union – ruled that a reasonable doubt remained as to whether or not Demjanjuk was in fact Ivan the Terrible.
Holocaust survivors and others brought at least 10 petitions demanding that Demjanjuk be tried for lesser war crimes while serving as a guard in other concentration camps including Sobibor and Majdanek.
But the attorney-general and the Supreme Court decided to let Demjanjuk go based on legal technicalities.
March 17th — John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland auto worker convicted for crimes he committed as a Nazi death camp guard, died in a German nursing home. Demjanjuk, 91, died Saturday at an old-age home in southern Germany, where he was free while he appealed his conviction last year for his role in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland. Demjanjuk, born and raised in Ukraine, was first identified as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp, in the 1970s. In 1986, U.S. authorities deported him to Israel. A court there sentenced him to death, but during his appeal process the Israeli prosecution uncovered evidence suggesting that another man had been “Ivan.” Although substantial evidence emerged during the trial identifying him as a guard at Sobibor, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered him released.
Locked inside U.N. headquarters is a huge but largely unknown archive documenting 10,000 cases against accused World War II criminals, from Belgian charges against Adolf Hitler to the trial of a Japanese commander for inciting rape. Leading British and American researchers are campaigning to make the files — hundreds of thousands of pages in 400 boxes — public for the first time in 60 years, arguing that they are not only historically valuable but also might unearth legal precedents that could help bring some of today’s war criminals to justice. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is also seeking to have the archive opened. “It’s outrageous that material which could help bring today’s war criminals to justice and improve our understanding of the Holocaust is still secret,” said British academic Dan Plesch, who is leading the push for access. “The whole archive should be online for scholars and historians.”
The archive belonged to the United Nations War Crimes Commission, a body established in October 1943 by 17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals — ultimately involving approximately 37,000 individuals — examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.
Special To The Jewish Week
By Menachem Z. Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
Better late, even extremely, excruciatingly late, than never. MSNBC’s decision to oust Patrick Buchanan as its arch-conservative political commentator last week was long overdue.
Some of Buchanan’s erstwhile colleagues at the network are voicing their unhappiness at this development. “Mika [Brzezinski] and I strongly disagree with this outcome,” Joe Scarborough wrote on his Politico blog. Praising Buchanan’s “relentless genialities” and his “deep, even formidable, loyalty,” Chris Matthews told his viewers that “obviously, I’m going to miss his cheerful, fun-loving irascible presence around here.” Before Buchanan is turned into a veritable martyr, a review of his record seems in order.
I first crossed swords with Buchanan in 1987 after I had written a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the deportation of Nazi war criminal Karl Linnas, and said that Buchanan’s “oft-expressed sympathy” for a succession of such Nazi war criminals was a “constitutionally protected perversion.” Sticking to his guns, Buchanan took umbrage in a Letter to the Editor at what he considered a “nasty personal slur” and “flippant libelous insult.” Buchanan likened another Nazi war criminal to Jesus Christ. When John Demjanjuk was about to be deported to Germany, where he would eventually be tried and convicted for his role in the murder of 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, Buchanan in his syndicated column of April 17, 2009, not only called Demjanjuk an “American Dreyfus” and “the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany’s sins,” but he wrote that the “spirit” behind the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is “the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago.”
BERLIN — John Demjanjuk, who was convicted last year of serving as a Nazi death camp guard, is asking for German state financial help to sue the country’s biggest-selling newspaper for alleged defamation, a court said Thursday. Duesseldorf state court spokesman Ulrich Egger told The Associated Press that Demjanjuk is complaining Bild newspaper’s website labeled him a “war criminal” and a “Nazi henchman” before he was convicted last May of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder.
A man who gave the Nazi salute at a costume party organized by the ultra-right National Resistance has been acquitted. The Czech Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman, who has now failed to have first and second-instance acquittals handed down by courts in Prague overturned. The courts have ruled that the giving of the Nazi salute in this case was not an example of the public commission of this crime because it was committed at a closed event where everyone else present was also engaging in the same behavior.