Category Archive: PROFILES

Polish tourism calendar shows Jews as rats

Civic leaders in Warsaw have come up with a novel way of promoting their town to tourists – with an image of kippot-wearing rats fleeing a flame thrower. They reproduced an antisemitic pre second world war poster to use as one of the images to illustrate their 2012 calendar.

The Lessons of Genocide, Taught by the Son of Parents Who Survived It

Just days after liberation, surrounded by starvation and disease, a young woman looked into a soldier’s movie camera and described the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Months later, the same woman, Hadassah Bimko, gave crucial, tearful testimony at the trial of the camp commander and guards. Allied prosecutors included her filmed interview in a shocking documentary that was entered into evidence at the trial, at Nuremberg, of high-ranking Nazis. Menachem Z. Rosensaft showed that 1945 film clip to his class on the law of genocide, at Columbia Law School, but to him, the woman in flickering black-and-white was no distant witness to history. She is his mother. The professor is the Jewish son of two Holocaust survivors whose families were wiped out.
DYet Mr. Rosensaft, 63, who is teaching the class at Columbia for the first time, manages to take an almost dispassionate approach, as if to say that outrage is fine, but then what? He peppers his lectures and conversation with hypothetical questions devised to avoid easy answers.

Holocaust hawker is a disgrace: Profiting from Nazi memorabilia should be banned

If you really want to despise someone, look no further than Stamford, Conn., where you can find Basil (Bill) Panagopulos, who runs Alexander Historical Auctions. This outfit prides itself in its Facebook entry as being “one of the world’s premier auctioneers of militaria [sic], historic letters, manuscripts, documents and relics in all fields of collecting.” The good Panagopulos also peddles Nazi memorabilia.Among the items he is offering for sale today are “the hidden journals of Dr. Josef Mengele,” with an estimated price tag of between $300,000 and $400,000. Mengele, you may recall, was the SS “doctor” who ran selections for the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, where he also conducted terminal medical experiments on inmates. Among his victims was my mother’s sister, whom he sent to her death in April 1944.”One day,” my mother wrote, “a young woman was late for roll call outside her barrack. Mengele ordered her to come forward, knocked her to the ground, and put his boot on her chest. Humming an aria from Madame Butterfly, he kept his foot there until she was dead. He showed the SS men a new way of killing.”So what precisely is Alexander Historical Auctions hawking? The “historically important” Lot 4, according to the auctionhouse’s website, consists of “31 autograph manuscripts, approx. 3,380+ pp. in various formats, largely bound journals . . . some illustrated.” The content of these journals: reminiscences, ponderings on eugenics, “philosophical and introspective writings,” poems and travelogues. Who cares? The ramblings of a sadistic sociopath who murdered thousands more than Osama Bin Laden ever did should not be allowed to yield a small fortune in profits to the anonymous consignor – with a healthy commission to Panagopulos, of course.Moreover, the lucky purchaser will “own the copyright to materials contained within the lot” together with the consignor until Dec. 31, 2035. Say what? Yup, the seller of this garbage, presumably richer to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars after today’s auction, will retain the “co-exclusive right to use copies of any and all writings in this lot in any documentary or film about Josef Mengele or any direct relative of Josef Mengele.”But wait, there’s more.Lot 5 is an “extremely rare and revealing page full of pencil drawings in Mengele’s hand, some captioned, undertaken while he was in hiding in South America, ca. 1970. Among the sketches is a four-legged hideously-toothed beast at upper-right, a smiling cyclops, a car shown between two collapsing buildings, a Lutheran priest complaining about taxes,” and so on. The estimated price for this gem is between $7,000 and $9,000. Pardon me while I puke.And just in case you’re a bit squeamish and Mengele is not up your alley, Alexander Historical Auctions will gladly sell you a handsome signed and dated 1924 photograph of Adolf Hitler himself (Lot 1, estimated price: $15,000 to $18,000); a handwritten birthday greeting from the Fuhrer to a presumably Aryan “gracious lady” (Lot 7, price tag: $10,000 to $12,000) or, for the budget-conscious neo- or crypto-Nazi, a postcard signed by Hitler’s sister Paula valued at a measly $200 to $300.This is not the first time Panagopulos has played in the big leagues. In February of last year, he claimed that he had sold another Mengele journal to the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor who was going to donate it to a Holocaust museum. At the time, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants condemned the sale as “a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals.” Nothing has changed – except, apparently, the magnitude of the outrage.Let’s be clear. While selling child pornography is a criminal act, establishing a market for signed Mengele manuscripts is perfectly legal, in this country at least.But the same First Amendment that allows Panagopulos and his ilk to abet the glorification of Nazism allows the rest of us to expose and ostracize the purveyors of such obscenities.Do Mengele’s disgusting affects have some historical value? Certainly.And Panagopulos apparently offered to sell the journals to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial. Key word there: sell. Apparently, the museum made the very sound judgment that such artifacts should not be traded for financial gain. Obviously. Which is why the online auction site eBay prohibits the sale of Nazi memorabilia, as does Yahoo! Panagopulos has no such qualms. If we as a society boycott Iran, the least we can do is boycott him and the other lowlife profiteers he enables.
(Rosensaft, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)

Holocaust Haunts Survivors: Study

The suffering experienced by Holocaust survivors still leaves psychological scars but appears to have little effect on their cognitive functioning and physical health, according to a new international study.
Researchers from Israel and the Netherlands also found that Holocaust survivors living in Israel have better psychological health than those living in other countries, which suggests that living in Israel may serve as a protective factor.
“Six decades after the end of World War II and we are still learning how a mass genocide like the Holocaust is affecting its victims,” lead author Efrat Barel, a psychology professor at the Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel, said in an American Psychological Association news release.
“What we’ve found is that they have the ability to overcome their traumatic experiences and even to flourish and gain psychological growth, but it many not be as easy as it seems,” Barel added.
Barel and colleagues analyzed the findings from 71 studies that were conducted over 44 years (1964 to 2008) and compared Holocaust survivors and control groups from the general population.
The analysis showed that Holocaust survivors had poorer psychological well-being, more symptoms of post-traumatic stress and more symptoms of mental illness. Holocaust survivors living in Israel had better psychological well-being and social adjustment than those living in other countries.
There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning or physical health between Holocaust survivors and those in the control groups.
“The psychological scars of Holocaust survivors are evident in their continued experience of post-traumatic symptoms, but these experiences have not necessarily prevented their ability to adapt to day-to-day life,” co-author Abraham Sagi-Schwartz, a dean of social sciences at Haifa University, said in the news release. “It’s possible these survivors repressed a lot of these traumatic memories in the immediate aftermath of the war and instead focused on rebuilding their lives and raising new families.”

Supreme Court rules against California on Holocaust art

WASHINGTON _ The Supreme Court on Monday left intact a decision that California had strayed too far into foreign affairs with a state law that extended the statute of limitations for recovering Holocaust-era art.The decision is a victory for the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, which wants to hold on to a pair of 16th-century oil paintings titled “Adam and Eve.” It’s a marked defeat for the heirs of the man who owned the paintings before World War II tore everything apart. The decision not to consider an appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case is also a reminder that foreign policy will remain mostly in federal hands. “California has created a worldwide forum for the resolution of Holocaust restitution claims,” the 9th U.S. Circuit had concluded in 2009. “While this may be a laudable goal, it is not an area of traditional state responsibility.” The Supreme Court, as is customary, offered neither written nor oral explanation for its decision not to hear the appeal of the 9th Circuit’s opinion. At least four of the nine justices must agree for an appeal to be heard.Most appeals to the Supreme Court are denied without full hearings. The petition in the case called Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art was one of more than 100 petitions that were denied without comment Monday.Though some art experts and others wanted the court to hear the case, the Obama administration had weighed in to say it was unnecessary. Justices often pay close attention to the views of the Solicitor General’s Office.“By targeting the claims of Holocaust survivors and their heirs to Nazi-confiscated art, rather than merely applying to such claims a law of general applicability, California has impermissibly intruded upon foreign affairs prerogatives of the federal government,” then-Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal wrote in a May brief. The paintings in question were by Lucas Cranach the Elder. A Dutch art dealer purchased them in 1931, then left them behind when he fled with his family after the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940. Nazi leader Hermann Goering then acquired the paintings. After the war, the paintings came into the possession of another dealer, who sold them to the museum.In most cases, California imposes a three-year statute of limitations on those who seek to reclaim personal property. Under a 2002 state law, though, California allowed individuals to file property claims up until Dec. 31, 2010, for “Holocaust-era artwork.”The appellate court decision upheld Monday noted in part that the California property-claim scheme conflicted with World War II restitution programs established by the Netherlands and the United States. In part, as well, the heirs of the original Dutch art dealer who owned the Cranach paintings could still try to reclaim them without resorting to the invalidated California law that gave special treatment to Holocaust-era artwork.

Cobblestones honoring Holocaust victims appear on Prague streets

Another series of memorials, writ small, will soon grace the streets of Prague outside the homes of the Holocaust victims who lived there before being forcibly deported. It is part of the Stolpersteine (“stumbling blocks”) project of German artist Gunter Demnig, who since 1993 has installed tens of thousands of brass-plated plaques across Europe, inspired by a line from the Talmud: “One is not truly dead until one’s name is forgotten.”Demnig’s “stumbling blocks” — cobblestones about 10 centimeters wide — serve to let the casual passerby know that in the very house that he or she is walking past once lived people who were rounded up and taken away to be murdered because of their ethnicity, religion, politics or sexual persuasion. “This is my life’s work; I will continue for as long as I’m able,” he says in an article posted on the project’s website. “Giving names back to the dead is a way of keeping them alive.”Demnig has placed more than 27,000 stumbling stones in about 600 cities, towns, and villages throughout Germany and Europe. Each one begins with the words “Here lived…” and gives the date of the victims’ deportation and, if known, the place where they met their untimely ends. Although each one is small, over the past 15 years the plaques have collectively become the single biggest Holocaust memorial in Germany.“The stumbling blocks become reminders and voices; they call out, ‘Every human being has a name,’” Miriam Gillis-Carlebach told the German Herald. She is the daughter of Hamburg’s last rabbi and commissioned stones from the Cologne-based artist for her family members who were deported by the Nazis.In the Czech Republic, the first stolperstein was installed in 2008 on Jáchymová Street in Prague’s old Jewish quarter. Demnig is in town this week to begin a second round, beginning at Zborovská Street. In total, 81 will be put in place in the Czech capital. There are plans to install more in Teplice, Brno and Olomouc in addition to those in Kolín, Neratovice, Třeboň and Ostrava.Demnig, who was born in Berlin, has always provoked public interest as a political artist. In 1990, he marked in chalk the route taken by Cologne’s Romany (“Gypsy”) community when they were deported in 1940. When he retraced the signs three years later, the reaction of an older woman gave him the idea for the stumbling stone project. “There were no Gypsies in our neighborhood,” Demnig says the woman told him. “She just didn’t know that they had been her neighbors, and I wanted to change that.”“I designed the stumble stones to bring back the names of Holocaust victims to where they had lived; in my opinion, existing memorials have failed to do that,” he said, noting that home owners often refuse to have memorial plaques installed on their buildings, but the sidewalks are public property.

Holocaust memorial may be built inside Ohio Statehouse

CANTON, Ohio – A Canton woman who survived the Holocaust is supporting a plan to build a memorial to the Holocaust victims inside the Ohio Statehouse. Barbara Turkeltaub, 77, said she believes it would be a touching tribute to those who lost their lives during World War II, including nearly six million Jews. “People will come and see and will learn about what happened to people, innocent people,” Turkeltaub said.The idea for the memorial was suggested by Gov. John Kasich earlier this month during a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the verdicts at the first Nuremburg trials. It immediately gained support from Ohio’s Jewish leaders. However, a time frame for building the memorial has not been announced.Turkeltaub still has nightmares over what she witnessed when she was only six years old. Her entire family, along with thousands of other Jews, were rounded up in Lithuania and taken to an area in Vilnius known as the ghetto.”Absolutely hell on earth. If you can imagine how hell can be, that’s what it was,” Turkeltaub said. She witnessed starvation, torture and murders.More than 100 of Turkeltaub’s relatives, including her father, were murdered by Nazi soldiers. She also recalled the horrible deaths of many children.”I remember the terrible screams of the parents that came to pick up the children and they were not there,” Turkeltaub said. Turkeltaub and her younger sister were smuggled out the ghetto by a farmer and eventually found refuge with a Catholic priest.Their mother was shot in a Lithuanian forest, but she survived and never stopped searching for her daughters. They were reunited at a convent.”My mother, it took her two years to find us. She went from house to house to house looking,” Turkeltaub said.

In the aftermath of World War II, a debate over whereto send Europe’s salvaged Jewish libraries

In the spring of 1946, Zalman Grinberg and Josef Rosenzaft, representatives of Jewish Holocaust survivors and Displaced Persons (DPs) in the American and British zones of post-World War II Europe, respectively, visited the United States. “Bread alone is not enough,” they poignantly pleaded to American Jews, “Send us poets, writers and singers to show us that Jewish life is not dead.”Reports from others close to the wreckage of post-Holocaust Europe also emphasized that despite the acute need for sustenance and shelter, the cultural hunger of survivors was often even greater than their physical hunger. According to the World Jewish Congress (WJC), survivors recognized that “courage and strength could only be found in the living wellspring of Jewish culture and learning.” As that wellspring had been all but depleted by the anti-Jewish pillage and murderous violence that characterized Hitler’s brutal reign, its revitalization would signify liberation from the crushing weight of fascism, and would satisfy the existential need for culture that exploded in the wake of the mass devastation. Survivors had a voracious appetite for books in particular. Openly visiting a library or purchasing a book, reading and learning what, when, how and with whom one wishes, are emblematic activities of a free and civilized existence, one that European Jews were impatient to re-embark upon after having been deprived of liberty or normality for well over a decade.