Category Archive: Nazis/Nazism

Jewish aide wrote White House Holocaust statement — report

Politico says Boris Epshteyn, a former Russian refugee who lost family to the Nazis, penned release that failed to mention Jews

Boris_Epshteyn-e1485850395557A Jewish aide reportedly wrote US President Donald Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was widely condemned for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president, wrote the speech, a source told Politico on Monday.

In the speech Trump vowed to combat the forces of evil, and called on listeners to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world,” but failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The omission was condemned by Jewish organizations across the spectrum, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine called it Holocaust denial.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the speech on Monday, saying “the statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.” He also called protests over the omissions “pathetic” and “nitpicking.”

Earlier this month, Epshteyn was asked by The Daily Beast about anti-Semites supporting the Trump administration. He answered, “I’ve had family who died in the Holocaust.”

Formerly a New York-based investment banker and finance attorney, Epshteyn worked as a communications aide for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, focusing his efforts on the Arizona senator’s running mate, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Epshteyn was born in Russia and emigrated to the US in 1993, aged 11, as a refugee along with his family. In a 2013 US News article Epshteyn thanked Senator Frank Lautenberg for easing “the restriction on refugee states and thereby allowed for tens of thousands of Jews like me from the former USSR to come to America.”

Epshteyn has been criticized for his business ties with Russia and for claiming on CNN that Russia did not seize Crimea.

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Long-Lost Plea to FDR Revives Question: How could Europe’s Jews have been Saved?

A ‘60 Minutes’ segment, an archivist, and the enduring legacy of assumptions that there was no way to skirt the law

winton82038Last month, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Sir Nicholas Winton, the London-born son of German Jews who has become known in England as “the British Schindler” for his efforts to rescue hundreds of Czech children, most of them Jews.

In the course of the segment, Winton mentioned that in 1939, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, asking the United States to accept some of the children. “But the Americans wouldn’t take any, which was a pity,” Winton told Bob Simon. “We could’ve got a lot more out.”

Neither family members nor scholars who have researched Winton’s story have ever been able to locate a copy of that letter—but after the 60 Minutes segment, a National Archives staff member named David Langbart began digging through the files until he found it. Earlier this week, on the occasion of Winton’s 105th birthday, Langbart presented him with both the original missive and the Roosevelt Administration’s response.

“Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being done and has been done for refugee children in Czechoslovakia,” Winton wrote. “[T]here are thousands of children, some homeless and starving, mostly without nationality, but they certainly all have one thing in common: there is no future, if they are forced to remain where they are.” Winton went on to describe their destitution, and closed with the question, “Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem in America?”

The answer was a firm “no.” The White House handed the letter off to the State Department, which in turn instructed the U.S. Embassy in London to inform Winton that “the United States Government is unable…to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws.”

Indeed, 1939 was the one year out of Roosevelt’s 12 in office that he permitted the full use of the immigration quotas for Germany and other European countries with large Jewish populations. But the law was the law; there was no more room. “The United States opened its doors to the extent that the law allowed at the time,” Langbart, the National Archives staffer, told CBS. “I wish it could have been more—but it wasn’t.”

But the truth is, it could easily have been.

***

The very same week that Winton wrote to Roosevelt, the refugee ship St. Louis was making its way across the Atlantic with its 937 German Jewish passengers all dreaming of freedom. Soon they would be refused admission to Cuba and the United States, and forced to return to Europe, where many would later be murdered by the Nazis.

But in 1938, after the Kristallnacht pogroms, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lawrence Cramer, backed by the territory’s legislative assembly, publicly offered to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich. “The U.S. immigration quotas did not apply to our territory,” Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democrat who currently represents the Virgin Islands, told me last month. “So refugees could have been admitted on a temporary basis, on tourist visas, for as long as they were in danger.”

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes supported the proposal, but the State Department strongly opposed it. Roosevelt sided with State, vetoing the plan on the grounds that Nazi spies might disguise themselves as Jewish refugees and sneak into the mainland U.S. via the islands. In fact, no cases of Nazis posing as refugees to get into America were ever discovered.

But there were other ways that Jews could have been admitted despite the rigorous quotas. Henry Feingold, a professor emeritus of history at Baruch College and one of the leading experts on the 1930s refugee crisis, noted that the law permitted the non-quota immigration of an unrestricted number of “ministers, their wives, and unmarried children.” The term “ministers” included rabbis. “In other words, quite a few rabbis and their families could have been admitted in 1939 despite the quota being filled that year with regular immigration from Germany and other European countries,” Feingold said.

As it happens, Feingold—then a child—was among the lucky handful who qualified under the immigration quotas and were able to reach the United States. He left Germany with his family just days before Kristallnacht. Most of his extended family stayed behind in Europe, and nearly all of his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.

Stephen Norwood, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has researched relations between American and German universities in the 1930s, points to two additional categories that could have been used to admit Jews outside the quota system. “A small number of college professors and students were admitted on a non-quota basis, provided an American college hired the professors and contributors, usually from the Jewish community, covered the students’ expenses,” he explained. “But many others could have immigrated to the U.S. within the law, if the administration hadn’t been looking for every possible way to keep immigrants out.”

In his recent book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, Norwood noted at least 50 instances in which American colleges offered scholarships to European Jewish refugee students, but the Roosevelt administration blocked their entry. U.S. officials claimed the students could not prove they had a safe address in Europe to which they could later return–and thus constituted a “risk” to become “financially dependent” on the federal government.

Another option for Jewish refugees was British Mandatory Palestine. Ironically, Winton’s letter to FDR was written just day after the British announced their new White Paper policy, shutting off the Holy Land to all but a trickle of Jewish immigration. Could FDR have dissuaded London from taking that step? “England desperately needed American support because it knew war with Germany was likely,” noted Monty Penkower, a professor emeritus of Jewish history at the Machon Lander Graduate Center of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and the author of the new book Palestine in Turmoil: The Struggle for Sovereignty, 1933-1939. “Had FDR put a little behind-the-scenes pressure on the British to keep Palestine more widely open to Jewish refugees, they might have listened.”

Which brings us back to Winton, whose parents had changed their name from Wertheim and converted to Christianity after arriving in London. A stockbroker by profession, he got into refugee work after the Kristallnacht pogrom, spurred on by friends who shared his outrage over events in Germany. Eventually, he managed to arrange for the transport of 669 Czech children, finding families to take them in. One final group of 250 children were scheduled to depart from Prague on Sept. 1, 1939—but they were trapped when the Germans invaded Poland that day, and all of them were eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

His letter to the president of the United States, written six months earlier, in May 1939, remains a tragic reminder of the desperation not just of Jews trying to flee Hitler, but of those working so hard to save them. And the Roosevelt Administration’s response remains a symbol of a government that looked for every reason to say “no” to Jewish refugees, even when the law itself offered numerous options to save lives by opening the doors just a little.

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The Trump Administration’s Holocaust without Jews

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day last Friday, the White House issued a statement that made no mention of Jews. Initially willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt, John Podhoretz chalked up the omission to “ignorance and sloppiness”—until one of President Trump’s representatives defended it:

The decision not to mention the Jews was deliberate, [the White House spokeswoman Hope] Hicks said, a way of demonstrating the inclusive approach of the Trump administration: “Despite what the media report, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered; . . . it was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”

The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups—Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews. There is no “proud” way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact. To universalize it to “all those who suffered” is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.

Given Hicks’s abominable statement, one cannot simply write this off. For there is a body of opinion in this country, and in certain precincts of the Trump coalition, [whose proponents] have long made it clear they are tired of what they consider a self-centered Jewish claim to being the great victims of the Nazis. . . . [T]he Hope Hicks statement does not arrive without precedent. It is, rather, the culmination of something: the culmination of decades of ill feeling that seems to center on the idea that the Jews have somehow made unfair “use” of the Holocaust and that it should not “belong” to them. Someone in that nascent White House thought it was time to reflect that view through the omission of the specifically Jewish quality of the Holocaust.

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Trump’s Holocaust day statement fails to mention Jews or anti-Semitism

President vows to ensure ‘the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good’; ADL chief calls absence of specific Jewish reference ‘puzzling and troubling’

AP_17026679667080-e1485542961947WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day Friday in which he vowed to combat the forces of evil, and called to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world,” but failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

The absence of any specific mention of Jews or anti-Semitism was highlighted and criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the president said. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly took to Twitter to exclaim it was “puzzling and troubling” that the 117-word statement did not specifically cite the persecution of the Jewish people that was central, though not exclusive, to the Nazi genocide.

Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”

In his statement, Trump vowed to use the power of the presidency to safeguard the world from allowing an atrocity such as the Holocaust to repeat itself.

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good,” Trump said. “Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

It is not the first time an international leader has failed to mention Jews while honoring the memory of those murdered by Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Last year, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caused a similar reaction when he issued a statement that lacked any reference to Jews or anti-Semitism.

This year, Trudeau avoided making that a tradition. “Today, on the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we remember the more than six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the countless other victims of Nazi brutality,” he said.

Trudeau further pledged to use the day of remembrance to “reaffirm our commitment to stand against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and prejudice in all its forms.”

Trump was among several world leaders who devoted statements in memory of Holocaust victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which in 2005 the United Nations set for Jan. 27 — the day in 1945 that the Red Army liberated the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. More than 1 million Jews out of the 6 million murdered in the Holocaust were killed there.

“Tragically, and contrary to our resolve, anti-Semitism continues to thrive,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement made Thursday in New York that was read out the following day at UN headquarters in Geneva. “We are also seeing a deeply troubling rise in extremism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hatred. Irrationality and intolerance are back.”

In Germany, outgoing Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is to become president this year, noted during a speech the political instability in the world today.

“History should be a lesson, warning and incentive all at the same time,” he said. “There can and should be no end to remembrance.”

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Nazi hunter says hundreds could still be at large

Efraim Zuroff expects a spike in convictions in coming years despite most suspects being in their 90s

000_KS3GP-e1485486822551Hundreds or even thousands of Nazi war crimes suspects could still be at large, one of the world’s leading experts on the matter said Thursday, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Efraim Zuroff said he expected a spike in convictions in the coming years despite most suspects being in their 90s, but admitted most were unlikely to face justice as many countries are unwilling to pursue cases.

“There are still hundreds, if not thousands of these Nazis, but the problem is who among them can be brought to justice?” the so-called Nazi hunter told an event ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday.

Since 2001, 104 Nazis have been convicted over their roles in the Holocaust, in which around six million Jews were systematically exterminated, figures from Zuroff’s Simon Wiesenthal Center show.

The annual number has been declining, however, and between April 2015 and March 2016 there was only one conviction, with two new cases filed.

In June a 94-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted in Germany.

Zuroff said he expected the number to increase in coming years.

“There will be a spike because of the whole change in German prosecution policy,” Zuroff told AFP.

In 2011 German legal policy changed to allow prosecutions of those who worked for the Nazis in the death camps, rather than specifically having carried out a killing, allowing for new trials of men and women in their 90s.

While he hailed Germany’s commitment to prosecuting as many suspects as possible, Zuroff pointed out many other countries have not pursued trials.

Collaborators in many countries had been largely immune from prosecution as their governments were unwilling to push the matter, he said.

“In a country like Ukraine, for example, there are a lot of Ukrainians who were involved,” he said.

“They have never initiated a single investigation.”

Zuroff said in both Norway and Sweden statute limitations mean that Nazi war criminals could not be prosecuted.

“In Norway there were people who volunteered for the SS, were sent to the east and were involved in crimes against humanity in Ukraine,” he added.

Zuroff said it was a race against time to convict people before they die.

“It is drawing to an end for obvious reasons,” he said, calling it the “biological solution”.

Asked how the world would look back on their attempts to bring Nazis to justice across the world, Zuroff said “there is no question it failed.”

“The huge number of people involved made it impossible to bring all the perpetrators to justice, so the question is how many will be brought. I look at it that every person brought to justice is a victory.”

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Running for the past, athletes trek to Holocaust race in Rome

With 80-year-old Holocaust survivor and Munich Olympian Shaul Ladany, the Run for Mem took participants past historical Nazi persecution sights throughout the city

29On October 16, 1943, 45-year-old Settimio Calò left his wife Clelia and their nine children comfortably asleep in their apartment when he snuck out at dawn, hoping he would be able to buy some cigarettes — a rare treat in Nazi-occupied Rome.

When he got home a few hours later, he found the place in Via del Portico D’Ottavia, the heart of the former Jewish Ghetto, completely empty. The Nazis had raided the neighborhood and rounded up over 1,000 Jews. Of them, only 15 men and one woman survived Auschwitz. All Calò’s children, including little Samuele, just a few months old, were murdered.

“Today many people have forgotten about the Holocaust. The number of survivors was already small immediately after it, and 72 years later very few can still tell their stories firsthand. This is why doing it when I have the opportunity is an imperative for me,” Holocaust survivor and Israeli racewalker Shaul Ladany says in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel.

Ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day, Ladany — who was at the 1972 Munich Olympics and survived the horrifying terror attack on the Israeli delegation — was the guest of honor at an event in Rome aimed at promoting Holocaust remembrance and the awareness of its importance.

“Run for Mem,” a non-competitive road race past sites related to the history of the Holocaust in the Italian capital, took place on Sunday, January 22.

Via del Portico D’Ottavia, where the Calò family was arrested along with so many others, and which today remains at the heart of the Jewish life in the city, was the epicenter of the race. The little square behind the Great Synagogue named after the date of the Nazi raid, Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, served as the start and end point.

About 1,500 people took part in the initiative, which was organized by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, with support of Maccabi Italia (a branch of the renowned international Jewish sports organization) and the Rome Marathon.

“This year we chose a new, maybe even brave way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day — a sporting event,” President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni said, opening the race.

“People happen to run every day, but today we have to take with us the milestones of our history and remember that the path ahead of us starts from the one influenced by past events. Sometimes people fall and are hurt. They have made us fall, they have hurt us, but we have gotten back to our feet and we have started again, as individuals, as a people, as a community, as Italians, as Europeans,” she concluded.

“Run for Mem” also received the support of over two dozen Jewish, civil, government and sports organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress as well as Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni.

Among those who attended were members of the Italian government, undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi, Italian runner Franca Fiacconi, Imam Yahya Pallavicini and Israeli ambassador to Rome Ofer Sachs.

The high interest for the event especially moved Ladany.

“I must say that I was really pleased to be invited to this event and impressed by the work done by the organizers, including the fact that there were so many journalists and so much interest around it. A lecture could have never drawn as much attention,” Ladany points out.

The 80-year-old racewalker opted for the longest route of 10 kilometers (6 miles), finding some similarities with the Jerusalem Marathon.

“The Jerusalem Marathon, with so many ups and downs, is hard, but the landscapes are wonderful. Same here in Rome. Amazing views, the Colosseum, the Forum, but a tough one, especially because the stone-paved streets were far from being smooth,” he said.

Ladany, who is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Ben-Gurion University, also recalled a time in Israel when there were no marathons at all.

“Today there are several, with thousands of participants. When they held the very first one from Hadera to Zichron Yaakov as an Olympic trial in 1956, there were maybe 10 or 12 participants, myself included. Shortly after, they started to organize racewalks. I have been racewalking ever since,” he said.

The two routes offered by “Run for Mem” (the shorter of which was 3.5 kilometers) took the runners around the city, passing by streets and buildings which witnessed the Nazi cruelty, as well as sites that speak about the courage of those who risked their lives to help people in need.

Participants, who all wore t-shirts bearing the slogan “Race for Remembrance, Looking Ahead,” ran by the Regina Coeli prison on the Tiber river, where Jews and political prisoners were detained.

They also passed by the building on Via Urbana where Father Pietro Pappagallo lived. The hero had helped victims of the persecution and resistance fighters until he was arrested and killed by the Nazis in the infamous Ardeatine Caves massacre of 1944.

The longer route passed by the building in Via Tasso that served as SS headquarters and which today houses the Museum of the Liberation.

The shorter one cut through the small Tiberina island, where physician Giovanni Borromeo hid hundreds of Jews from the Nazis. Many of them were diagnosed with the fictitious “K. disease,” which kept German soldiers, afraid of contracting contagious diseases, at bay. Borromeo was recognized as a Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2004.

“The sites featured in this road-race symbolize the history of the persecution, devoting attention also to what happened to Roma people, political opponents and members of the gay community,” commented Maccabi Italia president Vittorio Pavoncello, speaking to Sky News Italy.

The “Run for Mem” itinerary also included the Via degli Zingari, where a plaque commemorates the oppression of the Roma people.

Speaking from his hotel in Rome, Ladany, who was sent to Bergen Belsen with his family as an 8 year old, explains how being a survivor has influenced his life.

“It shaped me to be ambitious, to set high goals. Out of the first eight years of school, I only attended four, in four different languages. Therefore, my first goal was to graduate high school. Then it was to become an officer in the Israeli army, to get a degree, a second degree, a PhD, a position as a lecturer, professor, tenured professor. And simultaneously, to become an Israeli champion, set a world record, take part in my first Olympic Games, and then in my second,” he said passionately.

His second Olympic competition was in Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by the Palestinian terror group Black September. Ladany managed to get out of the building.

“Munich was just yet another situation where I found myself in mortal danger and I survived,” he explained. “I think that another consequence of my experiences during the Holocaust, when I lost 28 members of my immediate family, is that I am not afraid of anything.

“This does not mean I am not cautious, but I’m not afraid to die. For example, when the Six Day War broke out, I was studying in the United States. I came back at my own expense to volunteer in the army, and not because I like the military life. I felt it was my duty to defend my country.”

Asked what role sports and athletes can or should play in influencing the world, he explained that there are those who like to speak up, and those who don’t.

“When asked, I personally always expressed my opinion, even if it meant going against the mainstream view,” he said, remembering how after the massacre at Munich, he opposed the withdrawal of the team because he felt it would give the terrorists what they wanted.

“I also think it was right that the Olympics went on. When Baron de Coubertin started the modern Olympic Games, he had in mind the ancient ones which marked a moment of truce between the different Greek city-states. Nowadays, many things have changed. There is the doping, the money… However, this should not change,” Ladany says.

At the end of the “Run for Mem” all participants crossed the finish line together. What better could embody the idea so dear to de Coubertin that what counts is not winning, but participating, than a Race for Remembrance?

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Nazi death camp heroine known as the ‘mother of Belsen’ gave orphans hope after her own family were murdered

After her own relatives died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Hadassah Bimko could have easily given up hope, yet she found the strength to love and care again

PROD-Hadassah-Bimko-Captain-Winterbottom-and-Dr-Ruth-GutmanShe had been a daughter, a wife and an adoring mum – but by the time Hadassah Bimko arrived at the death camp of Bergen Belsen, every one of those roles had been ripped away.

The 33-year-old lost her parents, husband and five-year-old son, Benjamin, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Most people would have lost all hope too.

But Hadassah clung on to the love she could no longer give her own son and decided to become a mother again – to all the children who had lost their parents.

She risked her life to create a children’s home for Belsen’s orphans. One of them was the then 14-year-old Mala Tribich and speaking ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day today, she says Hadassah saved her.

“She was the mother of Belsen,” says Mala. “But I never knew she lost a child of her own. I owe my life to her, we’d not have survived without her care. Me and my cousin Ann, who was seven, arrived at Belsen alone. We had lost our parents and I had been caring for Ann for two years.

“I knew at Belsen there was no way we would survive, then I heard about this lady.

“It was terribly overcrowded but I remember her saying, ‘I am sure we can manage these two little Jewish girls’.”

Hadassah passed away in 1997 but with tears in her eyes Mala, now 85, is telling her story as she meets Menachem Rosensaft – a man she views as a brother in many ways, because he is Hadassah’s son.

Although she was grieving for the child she had lost, she found the strength to love again in Belsen. In the Displaced Persons Camp created after its liberation by the British Army, she met Josef Rosensaft, a survivor who had lost his wife.

They married and she had Menachem in the camp, where she kept on working, in 1948. “For my parents, me being born was a new beginning,” he says, sitting close to Mala. “It was a spark of life.”

Reaching out to her, he adds: “Meeting Mala means so much. These children my mother helped are my brothers and sisters. She never spoke very much of that time.

“But I’m certain, because she’d been unable to protect her own child, she felt the needed to do that for others and always considered them as her own children.”

Hadassah, also known as Ada, and her family were from Sosnowiec, Poland, where she was a dentist. The Nazis deported them to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 1943.

Menachem says: “Upon her arrival, she was separated from her parents, her husband and her son, who were all sent directly into one of the gas chambers.”

Hadassah spoke of that terrible final moment with her son in her memoirs – Yesterday, My Story. She wrote: “One SS man started the selection. With a movement of his finger, he was sending some to the right and some to the left. Our son went with his father. He asked, ‘Mummy, are we going to live or die?’. I didn’t answer.”

Menachem recalls his mother’s devastation, saying: “As the Germans intended, she felt disoriented, humiliated and deprived of her sense of self.”

She could have given up then – but she was given a purpose. Due to her medical training the notorious Josef Mengele, Birkenau’s chief medical officer, chose her to work as a doctor. The camp’s infirmary simply patched up weak and injured inmates for more labour. But Hadassah used the opportunity for good.

“She would camouflage inmates’ wounds and send them out when she knew gas chamber selections were expected, so they’d avoid them,” says Menachem.

In November 1944, Mengele sent Hadassah to work at Belsen. There, she found the Nazis cared much less – but she realised she could use the desperate conditions to her advantage.

“In December, she and some other women found 49 Dutch children outside their barracks,” Menachem explains. “The parents had been taken away. So she took them in. One SS doctor said, ‘What is this?’ but my mum said, ‘We are taking care of them’. He just walked away.

“By February, they had 150 – and 149 survived until the liberation. This children’s house became a project.”

Among the children were Mala and her young cousin, Ann Helfgott. Mala and her family, who were Jews from Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, had been herded into a Nazi ghetto.

Her mother and sister were murdered in an SS round-up while her father was at work. Mala survived because her mother pleaded with the guard that she was ill. But her reprieve did not last long.

The guards returned and rounded up Mala, her father and brother, and Ann. They were deported to a labour camp and then to Ravensbruck concentration camp.

She never saw her father again – he was shot on a death march. Thankfully, her brother survived but she did not find out until after the war. For now, the young, scared girls were alone.

When they were sent to Bergen-Belsen in February 1945, they were close to death. On hearing of “Dr Bimko’s” children’s home, Mala took Ann there in desperation.

“At 14, I knew I was probably too old,” she admits. “The barracks were overcrowded but she made it happen. I’ll never forget her. She gave us a feeling of security, as much as you could have in that place.”

When the British liberated the camp, Hadassah stayed on and testified in the first Nazi war crimes trial. Mala married and had two children, settling in Sweden then the UK. Ann emigrated to Australia.

Hadassah and her new family eventually moved to New York, where she rarely spoke of those times or the family she had lost.

But Menachem says she did talk about her “other children” in Belsen. “She spoke about singing to them and getting food and medicine for them,” he recalls.

In 1981, at a Holocaust memorial, Mala was finally able to see her again briefly. But she says only now, through Menachem, can she express the real weight of her thanks.

After all, they share an unbreakable bond. “Because in that camp she was my mother, too,” she smiles.

For more information about the Holocaust Educational Trust visit www.het.org.uk

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Researchers uncover vast numbers of unknown Nazi killing fields

The ‘Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos,’ set for completion in 2025, has now documented 42,500 sites of Nazi persecution — over eight times more than predicted. And the number keeps on rising

Lohhof-Abb.-1-e1485348225643-965x543MUNICH — In 2000, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, tasked researchers with creating a comprehensive, single-source record that would accurately document the thousands of persecution sites the Nazis had established. The USHMM estimated that the team would uncover about 5,000 persecution sites, which would include forced labor camps, military brothels, ghettos, POW camps, and concentration camps.

But as the research got underway that number skyrocketed.

In 2001, the number had doubled. A few years after that, researchers had already discovered 20,000 sites. Now, the “Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945” contains more than 42,500 sites that the Nazis used to persecute, exploit, and murder their victims.

“But quite frankly, you could put it much higher than that,” said Geoffrey Megargee, the project leader, who has coordinated the publication of the first two books of the seven-book series. The final encyclopedia book will be published in 2025.

“You could not turn a corner in Germany [during the war]… without finding someone there against their will,” said Megargee, speaking ahead of Friday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

For Megargee, counting the sites was one of the main challenges of the project. For example, there were camps that changed purposes over time and brothels that existed within camps. To err on the side of caution, sites like these were counted only once. Researchers also refrained from counting sub-camps, of which there were tens of thousands.

For researchers to conclude that a site had existed, they could not just rely on one person’s testimony. It was imperative that multiple witness testimonies and official documents corroborated each other in order for a site to make the series.

Because a gap of more than half a century existed between when the last camp was liberated and when the project began, one can only imagine how many sites will remain forever unrecorded. Not only were records and testimonies destroyed or lost during and after the war, they were also in a myriad of languages, or hidden by embarrassed, indifferent or unapologetic parties. Some were taken to graves by witnesses and victims who had died before the new millennium.

Still, the number of persecution sites discovered was more than eight times that which experts at the USHMM — the vanguard for Holocaust research — had predicted.

Perhaps, however, it was only possible to reach this shocking figure precisely because of the passage of time — for time brought to the project an element that nobody had foretold.

Skeletons in the closet

When Hermann F. Weiss decided to dig into his family’s past in 2001, his siblings had disapproved. His brother told him that there was already enough written about the Holocaust. Weiss disagreed.

“My family was anxious,” Weiss admitted. “They were afraid I would discover things about my father that were terrible.”

His father, whom Weiss describes as an “accomplice,” was an engineer overseeing the construction of infrastructure for Schmidding, a German missile development company. Weiss needed answers. His father’s role during the war had haunted him.

Weiss had even moved to the United States partly as a way to escape this familial and national burden, but the weight crossed the Atlantic with him. He felt depressed and ashamed. The only thing that Weiss saw as a reasonable response was “to give voice to the many unknown [victims].”

He focused his research on Silesia, a region that spans parts of Poland, Germany, and what is today the Czech Republic. Silesia was where his father had worked for Schmidding and it was where, in 1944, Weiss had spent the seven happiest months of his childhood because “there was no bombing.”

But investigating the atrocities in Silesia seemed to have no starting point. “Most historians do not touch [these sites],” he said, “because there are too few war-time documents.”

After pouring through this limited number of documents and survivor memoirs, Weiss frequently turned to a practice despised by those forced to use it: cold calling. For example, he had read a memoir about a forced labor camp in Silesia that accused a commander named Kurt Pompe of barbaric acts. Weiss had learned that the first name of Pompe’s youngest son was Herbert. He found six Herbert Pompes in the German online phone directory, and his second call was answered by Kurt Pompe’s daughter-in-law.

The conversation revealed a number of things, including where and when Kurt Pompe had died. This fact allowed Weiss to uncover Pompe’s denazification file, which showed that the Americans had been unaware of Pompe’s crimes. Weiss set the record straight in a Yad Vashem publication, and, in much briefer terms, in encyclopedia entries for camps where Pompe had committed his crimes.

“The encyclopedia entries have to be very condensed,” Weiss explained, a hint of regret in his voice.

Weiss’s research helped him to produce about two dozen entries on forced labor camps in Silesia for the encyclopedia series. Prior to his digging, most sites had little information published about them. Six sites, in fact, had never been written about before and were Weiss’s very own discoveries.

And yet some of Weiss’s most indelible memories from his research have no place in the encyclopedia.

For instance, on a trip to Silesia, Hermann Weiss discovered one undocumented persecution site that appeared as it would have days after the arrival of Soviet troops. Villager testimonies allowed Weiss to locate six unmarked graves, where three Poles and three Jews who had been murdered were buried. Four of the six mounds were still visible. There was no space in the encyclopedia to tell these stories. But like the specter of his father’s work, it was these stories that gnawed at him.

“The seeming insignificance of it,” Weiss explained, “was so significant.”

Dining with a murderer

Katherina von Kellenbach had grown up referring to Alfred Ebner as her uncle. Yet when the family got together with Ebner after World War II, his presence at the table never sat quite right with von Kellenbach.

Ebner had been responsible for setting up, running, and orchestrating the mass killings of more than 20,000 Jews in Pinsk, where 86% of ghetto residents were women and children. After the war, when the courts pursued top Nazis, Ebner was granted clemency, having been diagnosed with a form of dementia.

But at the family table, he seemed perfectly fine to von Kellenbach. In fact, the other family members had viewed Ebner as the victim. They considered that it was Ebner who had suffered because of these so-called unfounded accusations.

If the courts would not hold Ebner accountable and if Belarus had no public memory of these atrocities, von Kellenbach decided that she would investigate.

In 1999, she began her inquiry into her uncle’s past, visiting the Yad Vashem archive to gather data on Pinsk. But many documents were in Hebrew or other languages foreign to her. She needed help making sense of things. When she learned of a survivor from Pinsk who could be of assistance, she hesitated.

“It was hard to call up some survivor and say ‘I’m the niece of Alfred Ebner,’” she said. But that’s just what she did, and for two days she and survivor Nahum Boneh sat at his kitchen table with all of the documents, unpacking Ebner’s crimes.

For years, von Kellenbach worked to rescue documents trapped in other countries’ archives and at times had to run a cloak-and-dagger research operation. Since authorities would never have allowed her to conduct an unfettered investigation on a well-known perpetrator from the Pinsk region, she pretended to research partisans stationed in the vicinity of Pinsk. This gave her access.

Her family cast a hostile eye on her work. But the research whittled at the lies, and Ebner’s credibility in the family weakened. For the most part, everyone stopped protesting her efforts, though Ebner’s children continued to view their father “as a good man, who helped many people,” said von Kellenbach.

During one session with the documents, von Kellenbach had discovered writings in which a police officer under her uncle’s command complained about not knowing whether he should kill the child before the mother, or vice versa. On the day in question, Ebner had orchestrated the murders of more than 7,000 people.

“There’s no way you walk out [from the archive] at 5:00 p.m. as a human being,” von Kellenbach said after reading those documents.

Time is on our side

The researchers are far more diverse than the relatives of perpetrators and accomplices. While the project has many dyed-in-the-wool historians on board, there are researchers who survived one or more of the 42,500 sites, as well as the descendants of survivors.

Hannah Fischthal, for example, researched sites where her uncles had been imprisoned. Her work has helped to debunk inaccuracies. Karwin is a camp where her uncle had been imprisoned. It had always been considered a POW camp because of how it was characterized in a documentary film about an Italian prisoner. But Fischthal proved that Karwin was, in fact, a predominantly Jewish camp. The record was corrected and the Jewish victims were recently honored with a plaque at the site.

Some researchers are finding camps in the way paleontologists might dig up dinosaurs. Now that the technology is available, forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls has conducted ground-penetrating radar research near Adampol, where she has uncovered buried evidence that corroborated witness testimony and yielded new finds.

Martin Dean, who worked as the series editor on the encyclopedia before leaving the museum and the project at the end of 2016, had originally been employed as a war crimes investigator with Scotland Yard. Dean had spent years building cases against perpetrators, but most yielded inadequate results — some former Nazis were excused because of poor health, others died before being brought to trial.

While Dean’s expertise as an investigator was restricted by the courts, his acquired knowledge helped to correct the record for numerous previously unknown persecution sites, including some of the 300 ghettos that had never been documented before this project.

Bunker buster

About 14 kilometers (eight miles) north of Munich, is the town of Unterschleissheim. The entire area was once a persecution site, and researcher Max Strnand helped to document the Lohhof flax-retting plant, the camp that had once occupied these grounds.

Besides the camp, Strnand explained, there was hardly anything in Unterschleissheim during the war. The location then only had a train line, a warehouse, and a tower, all of which still exist today: the train station is just down the road from where the warehouse and tower — now swathed in modern day advertisements — sit inside a locked compound.

Because the land had been empty, the Nazis brought Jewish slaves and POWs to the fields to lay and dry out flax. The fibers from the stalk were then brought to the warehouse, where they would be stored as raw materials for linens.

Before Strnand, there was no single source that told the story of the camp in Unterschleissheim and facts were scattered about like confetti after a hurricane. But Strnand patiently unearthed an entire history, including information about the prisoners, of which there were typically 200 at any one time.

“We don’t know if people were executed here, but there were many accidents,” Strnand said. He noted, however, that only 10% of Jewish prisoners who came through Unterschleissheim survived the war, as the Jews from this camp were usually sent directly to extermination camps like Treblinka or Sobibor.

“This topic is something that concerns everyone who lives here,” Strnand said, who now sees his book about Lohhof implemented into local schools’ history lessons. Prior to his book’s publication, most people in town had never known that a camp had existed.

According to the city’s Head of Culture, Daniela Benker, there are plans to build a memorial site by 2018. But since the structures belonging to the former camp are behind a gate on private land, the aim is to build a memorial elsewhere — perhaps at the train station down the road — where it can be visible to the public.

While Strnand walked the site, a truck approached the compound and the gate opened. He followed the truck inside and found a hulking electrician ending his day. Strnand introduced himself and asked permission to walk the grounds. The electrician pulled out a key that accessed a supply shed, a former Nazi bunker.

The bunker looked like a typical storage shed; however, the reinforced roof that once provided additional safety against a bombing was still visible. What was most shocking was Strnand’s surprise. The researcher, who knew more about the camp than anyone else, was seeing the insides of this building for the very first time. Even the experts were still uncovering new facts about the hidden stories of the Holocaust.

The work is never done

The truth is much will remain unknown about the victims or the places that the Nazis used to dehumanize people and commit murder. But the encyclopedia series is the largest effort to most thoroughly document as many sites and include as much testimony as possible. When it is completed in 2025, many of the project’s researchers will still continue their work.

After Hermann Weiss finished correcting the record on Kurt Pompe, the Nazi from Silesia, he looked into the records of other criminals never brought to justice. Weiss came across hundreds of testimonies about a man named Hauschild, one of the most sadistic perpetrators in the Silesia region. Despite the accounts and accusations against Hauschild, the man remains Weiss’s greatest puzzle. Weiss cannot connect him to any particular Nazi organization and thus cannot condemn the man or his record accurately.

“I keep collecting. I keep looking,” Weiss said. “This is an example of how so many things about the Holocaust might be unknown forever… [The encyclopedia] will provide some basis for further work.”

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