Turkish Prime Minister claims Israel uses Holocaust as excuse

Holocaust survivors have reacted furiously to comments by the Turkish Prime Minister suggesting that Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse to kill Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister also condemned Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his remarks, made during an appearance on Turkish television. Mr. Erdogan said Israelis act “as if they are the victims all the time.” He also denied that there were accurate numbers for casualties in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and claimed that “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were killed” while only 200 Israelis were. Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated in the past year following the clash on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 and at the beginning of September this year Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador. Benjamin Netanyahu described what was said as “outrageous charges against Israel that have nothing to do with the facts”. “We don’t use the Holocaust,” he said. “The Holocaust was the worst crime in history perpetuated against our people.”

Elan Steinberg, the vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants
demanded that Mr Erdogan apologise to those he “so cavalierly offended”. He said: “Holocaust survivors are indignant at the morally obscene manner in which he has sought to instrumentalise the tragedy of the Holocaust for crass political aims.” Noting that Mr Erdogan visited Yad Vashem in 2005, he added: “We who suffered the brutalities of the Nazi regime are pained by the continued exploitation by politicians who twist our mass tragedy for the narrow self-promotion of their political agenda.”

Yad Vashem shuns Lithuania over demand to probe Holocaust survivors

Yad Vashem has canceled the participation of Lithuania’s culture minister, Arunas Gelunas, and of Darius Degutis, Lithuania’s ambassador to Israel, in a conference on the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry, which is scheduled for next week in Jerusalem. The move is a protest against Lithuania’s policy of asking Israel to investigate Holocaust survivors on claims of committing war crimes, among other suspicions. Last week Haaretz published an opinion piece by this reporter calling for the expulsion of the Lithuanian ambassador. Following the column, Yad Vashem received calls for it to cancel the invitations – and even cancel the conference. Joseph Melamed, 86, a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto and a partisan who fought in the forests and the chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel said he would boycott the conference. He now says he will attend. The Lithuanian government has accused Melamed of slandering nine Lithuanians who were executed by the Soviet government for collaborating with the Nazis. “When we read the Israel Police investigated Melamed at Lithuania’s request we were shocked. We decided to cancel the participation of the culture minister and Lithuanian ambassador in the conference,” said Yad Vashem’s spokeswoman, Iris Rosenberg. “The conference will take place as planned.”

Haifa’s Helping Hand: Retirement Home Supports Impoverished Holocaust Survivors

Haifa — Many Holocaust survivors living in Israel spend what should be their golden years in a state of poverty. A retirement home in Haifa that opened in 2010 is lending a helping hand to one of the country’s neediest groups. The project is being largely funded by Christians, with the assistance of volunteers from Germany.Sarah Samir speaks softly and leans forward so she can hear better. Although she hasn’t spoken German in more than 50 years, the words flow freely. After the war, the Holocaust survivor had no desire to use German — her own native language and that of Hitler — ever again, she says. Samir, 83, came to what is now Israel in 1945 at the age of 17. She was born near the then-German city of Breslau (today’s Wroclaw), but fled to Belgium with her grandmother in 1939. Her father died in a concentration camp in southern France, and her mother and brother both died in Auschwitz. A Christian family in Belgium saved her from the Nazis by letting her hide in their home. After the war, the family offered to adopt her, but she declined.”I wanted to stay Jewish,” she recalls.She emigrated to Israel, where she married and raised six children according to Jewish religious traditions. Her husband has since passed away and her children are fully grown with families of their own, but Samir still practices her religion in her adopted homeland. Each Friday, she joins about 20 friends and family to celebrate Shabbat at Helping Hands, Israel’s first and only residence for elderly Holocaust survivors, located in the northern city of Haifa.The situation for many of these survivors is grim. A report issued in 2008 by Israel’s National Commission of Inquiry into the Assistance Given to Holocaust Survivors confirmed that about one-third of Israel’s roughly 210,000 Holocaust survivors live beneath the poverty line.Free Housing and Care for Survivors. Shimon Sabag is the founder of the home and director of the charity organization Yad Ezer L’Haver — Hebrew for “a helping hand to a friend.” He began operating soup kitchens after an injury in a car accident some 20 years ago led him to rethink his life goals. He says he recognized the need for an old people’s home when the number of Holocaust survivors visiting the soup kitchens began to surge.As a first step in helping the survivors, he purchased a building in a quiet side street in Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood and provided a home to a dozen of them. “He who helps one person helps the whole world,” Sabag says, referring to a teaching from the Talmud.Sabag says his mother inspired him to create the Helping Hands home. The only member of her family to survive the Holocaust, she always opened her family’s home in Kiryat Ata, a suburb of Haifa, to others. “My mother lived in a big house and welcomed people who needed help,” he says.And it’s the kind of help that more and more Holocaust survivors require. The 2008 report on assistance to Holocaust survivors, which is critical of the Israeli government, reveals why private initiatives like Sabag’s are so important. It claims that the government “took funds from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the source of which was Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust for which there were no successors and which, by the nature of things, ought to have been earmarked solely to help Holocaust survivors, and used it to finance national institutions serving the general public.”In response to the so-called Dorner Report, named after retired Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner, who headed the commission, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On agreed to increase the monthly stipend of 40,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. Many Holocaust survivors still rely on individual payments and pensions from Germany. However, immigrants who came to Israel before its bilateral reparation agreement with Germany took effect in 1953 don’t have access to the same kind of assistance. The government has followed the recommendation of the commission and raised their payments to 75 percent of the average pension the German government gives to eligible survivors.The cost of implementing the recommendations from the report has been about 380 million Israeli shekels, or €74.4 million ($107.2 million), according to a spokesperson for Israel’s Interior Ministry. “The Authority for Holocaust Survivors Rights in the Ministry of Finance works in various ways to increase and widen the assistance to Holocaust survivors,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.Golden Years in PovertyStill, many Holocaust survivors spend what should be their golden years in poverty. Those from the former Soviet Union are especially hard hit. Most came to Israel later in life when they were already retired and spoke little or no Hebrew. Many never worked in Israel and therefore never paid into a pension fund. Negotiations in 2009 between the Claims Conference and Germany made special funds of €33 million available to such survivors in 36 countries, including Israel and the United States.”We heard so many stories of people having to decide whether to pay their electricity bill or to buy medicine,” says Yudit Setz, deputy director of the aid department of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), a Christian Zionist organization. The ICEJ was founded in 1980 following a controversial decision by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. At that time, Israel declared Jerusalem as its undivided and eternal capital, and several countries moved their embassies to Tel Aviv in protest. In response, a group of Christians decided to establish its own embassy to “stand with the Jewish people.” Christian Zionists regard the establishment of Israel as fulfilling Biblical prophecy and feel that they as Christians have a duty to support the Jewish state.The German chapter of ICEJ provided 60 percent of the funding for the survivors’ home in Haifa. “Our German director, who is also the international director, had asked me to find a project for Holocaust survivors,” Setz explains. The remaining 40 percent of financing for the home came from private donors and Yad Ezer L’Haver funds, and the Israeli government also contributes subsidies.In addition to ICEJ’s Germany chapter, other German evangelical Christian groups are also stepping in to help Holocaust survivors. Retired police officer Siegfried Wiegand and his wife Renate recently visited the home as representatives of the Friends of Israel in Saxony, a group from the eastern German state. The Christian charity regularly sends workers to help renovate the new buildings bought for the survivors. Members said their motivation comes straight from Isaiah 40:1 in the Bible: “Comfort, comfort my people.””That we, as the second generation after the perpetrators (of the Holocaust), are allowed to comfort the victims is a blessing,” Wiegand says. The Germans paint walls and lay tiles for two weeks at a time, sleeping on the construction site, in order to help Sabag save money.’Without Them, There Would Be No State of Israel’Some of the home’s residents don’t feel Israel’s government should be criticized for not providing greater assistance to Holocaust survivors, even if they were once young people who helped build the Jewish state after its founding in 1948.”Israel is a very poor country,” says Haia Kaspi, 77. “The government couldn’t give us what we needed — they gave a little, but couldn’t give more.” The Romanian-born Holocaust survivor immigrated to Israel immediately after its declaration of independence.At the end of the war, Kaspi was a seven-year-old girl who had lost her family in forced labor camps, over-crowded deportation trains and death marches. She spent a couple of years in the Netherlands, where she was taught Hebrew by American Jews in preparation for her new life in Israel.Kaspi, who moved into the Haifa residence after her children left home, says that being part of a community of survivors has made her feel better. The retired childcare provider values the friendships and the fact that they share a common language, Hebrew. She says that Sabag, the son of a survivor himself, provides “everything we ask for.”

Israeli Holocaust survivors sue Austria

Jews born to wealthy Austrian families, which lost all their property during World War II, are claiming billions of euros in compensation. ‘They must pay us everything we’re entitled to,’ they say.

A group of Austrian-born Israeli Holocaust survivors is working to reopen the symbolic compensation agreement signed by Austria a decade ago and demanding payment “for all the property we were robbed of”.
Jewish property has been evaluated in the past by Austrian historians at some €15 billion euros ($21 billion), without interest.

Israelis ask Greek president for restoration of citizenship

Papoulias tells Greek Holocaust survivors he would look into returning passports to descendants of Jews who lost citizenship in 1930s.
Karolos Papoulias, Greece’s president, told a group of Greek Holocaust survivors Sunday night he would look into returning passports to the descendants of Jews who lost their citizenship when they left their native country in the 1930s.
Among the Jews who lost their citizenship were hundreds of port workers who came from Salonika to Haifa to build the port there.
Some of the descendants of these workers, as well as the descendants of Greek Holocaust survivors, are keen on regaining the Greek passport because it would enable them to live and work in the 27 EU countries. In recent years thousands of Israelis have sought European passports – primarily German – on the basis of their parents’ or grandparents’ ancestry.
The Greek passport issue came up in February when a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Greek leaders before coming to Israel for their annual conference.
At the time, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis was reported to have announced that Greek Jews whose citizenship was revoked would be able to reclaim it, something that – judging by the request made to Papoulias on Sunday – has not yet been implemented.

Holocaust history helps Netanyahu’s Balkan engagement

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended Bulgaria’s Holocaust record on Thursday, reaching into history in his bid to buttress Balkan bonds as Palestinians campaign for U.N. recognition of statehood.Though allied with Nazi Germany, the Bulgarians safeguarded their 50,000 Jews. Many later emigrated to Israel, whose status as Jewish homeland Netanyahu wants Palestinians to endorse – a big bone of contention in stalled U.S.-sponsored peace efforts.”Bulgaria is under-appreciated,” the Israeli leader told Reuters during a visit to Sofia, likening its actions to Danish resistance against round-ups by the German occupiers.”It’s one of the more remarkable stories – perhaps the most remarkable story in terms of the number of people who participated, who stood up.”His Bulgarian host was gratified by the overture.”I would like to thank the Israeli Prime Minister for sending a message from Sofia … to the world about what the Bulgarian people did during the times of Nazism to save the Bulgarian Jews,” Prime Minister Boiko Borisov told a news conference.The Palestinians, who abandoned peacemaking after Netanyahu refused to renew a freeze on Israeli settlement-building last year, plan in September to seek U.N. acknowledgement of their claim to sovereignty over all of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.Central and eastern European states, former Soviet satellites keen to reorient toward the West and liberalize their economies, have been receptive to Netanyahu’s message that a Palestinian statehood accord must be negotiated. Israeli officials say they hope for their abstentions, if not nays, in any U.N. vote. The Balkan warmth, in contrast to the frost of many western European capitals where Netanyahu is viewed as intransigent, is explained by analysts as a result of both common cultural values and realpolitik.Israel’s falling out with the Turks over its Gaza policies helped mobilize Ankara’s old rivals in the region in Netanyahu’s favor. They are also interested in Israeli natural gas finds as potential supplements, or substitutes, for Russian-dominated energy supplies.

Holocaust survivors sue state over ‘unpaid reparations’

A group of Holocaust survivors has brought a lawsuit against the State of Israel for what they say is their rightful share of reparations monies paid to Israel by the former West Germany under the 1953 Reparations Agreement between the two countries.The 270 men and women, most of them in their 80s, are part of a group of Holocaust survivors known as the “Tehran children,” Jewish orphans who fled German-occupied Poland for the USSR in 1939. In 1941, after a period of incarceration in the Siberian Gulag, the children were allowed to travel with the newly formed Polish Anders Army to Tehran. The children’s parents had been murdered by the Nazis in Poland or had died in Siberia.

New Israeli ID cards to commemorate Holocaust dead

JERUSALEM – Israel is unveiling new identity cards for its citizens that will commemorate the Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.
The serial numbers will begin at 6 million, the number of Jews who perished in the genocide. The new cards, to be introduced in the coming months, will also include six Stars of David, representing the 6 million victims.
Baruch Dadon, head of the new ID card project in Israel’s Interior Ministry, said a government committee tasked with planning the updated, biometric cards came up with the idea to incorporate Holocaust symbolism into the design, a sort of honorary citizenship for the 6 million victims.
“We haven’t forgotten them,” said Dadon of the Holocaust victims. “They are with us … and they will be with us in the future.”
The numbers serve a purely technical function for indexing the number of cards printed. But Dadon said the symbolic numbering was not trivial.
“We are the state of the Jews,” said Dadon. “I think this was necessary.”
All Israelis are required to carry their ID cards with them. The new cards were designed to prevent forgeries. Each card features a chip containing encrypted information, including the bearer’s fingerprints and photo.
Dadon said he hoped Israel’s president would get the first card — numbered 6,000,001.