Category Archive: Survivors Speak

Holocaust survivors, veterans gather at DC Museum

Elderly Holocaust survivors and the veterans who helped liberate them gathered for what could be their last big reunion Monday at the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nearly 1,000 survivors and World War II vets joined with former President Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel to mark the museum’s 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors and vets may not be alive in another five or 10 years.

Rabbi Herschel Schacter, former Presidents Conference chair, dies at 95

Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has died.

Schacter, the first U.S. Army chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, died Thursday. He was 95.
Along with serving as chairman of the Presidents Conference from 1967 to 1969, he was president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi, founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board. He also was director of rabbinic services at Yeshiva University.
Schacter, a student of the esteemed Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, served as rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx, N.Y., for more than 50 years.
“Rabbi Schacter was an exemplary leader who often spoke of his deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity,” Presidents Conference leaders Richard Stone and Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement Thursday.
Schacter led a Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland after World War II. In 1956, he was a member of the first rabbinic delegation to the USSR and escorted a transport of Hungarian refugees from Austria to the United States.

Tel Aviv ‘shoe display’ aims to highlight survivors’ plight

Protesters place pile of shoes in Rabin Square in effort to create awareness for Holocaust survivors’ dire conditions; demand more funding

Tel Aviv’s Rabin square was a site of a rare form of protest on Sunday when a pile of shoes was placed in the square to symbolize Holocaust survivors’ dire conditions.

The protesters are calling on citizens to bring their own shoes to add to the pile. Around the display they posted posters which read “You threw them out like an old pair of shoes” and “Where is their money?”
The State has recently allocated NIS 50 million for Holocaust survivors but protest organizer Rafi Tal says this is not enough. “The idea came to me after realizing the terrible condition of Holocaust survivors whom I hosted in my restaurant,” he said. “Some of them used the expression ‘the state is chucking Us out like an old pair of shoes’ and that’s where the idea came from.” Tal, 29, is demanding that the government increase its budget for the survivors 2.5 times over. Some found the display in poor taste. “There are always those who would think it’s too blunt,” Tal says. “The way I see it you can either sit and do nothing or act for something that you care passionately about.” Another protester, Amir, added: “The display is meant to create awareness. On every Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are reminded of the sad stories but we are all guilty in that we don’t pay attention to them for during the rest of the year.”
Tal claims that the government has received huge amounts of money from Germany which it chose to invest in infrastructure. “There are 200,000 Holocaust survivors that live in poverty and desolation in Israel. We need to see to it that the money reaches those who helped establish the state,” he says.

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking

THIRTEEN years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe. What they have found so far has shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust.
The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945. The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington. “The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data.
“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.” The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.
The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.
The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)
The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.
The brutal experience of Henry Greenbaum, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives outside Washington, typifies the wide range of Nazi sites.
When Mr. Greenbaum, a volunteer at the Holocaust museum, tells visitors today about his wartime odyssey, listeners inevitably focus on his confinement of months at Auschwitz, the most notorious of all the camps.
But the images of the other camps where the Nazis imprisoned him are ingrained in his memory as deeply as the concentration camp number — A188991 — tattooed on his left forearm.
In an interview, he ticked off the locations in rapid fire, the details still vivid.
First came the Starachowice ghetto in his hometown in Poland, where the Germans herded his family and other local Jews in 1940, when he was just 12.


Minister of Finance Hosts Ceremony to Commemorate 60th Anniversary of Luxembourg Agreements
The government of Germany has committed, through an agreement signed with the Claims Conference, to continue compensation payments to eligible Holocaust survivors and providing funding for homecare for elderly victims.
At the ceremony in Berlin, German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble hosted a ceremony at which an agreement was signed that will continue to govern the Claims Conference’s compensation programs and the provision of homecare funding by the German government.
These agreements come 60 years after the historic first agreements were signed in September 1952 that pledged West Germany to providing payments for certain Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Those first agreements, called the Luxembourg Agreements, have been followed in the ensuing decades with numerous other funds and programs to provide payments and assistance to Holocaust victims, established through ongoing negotiations between the Claims Conference and the government of Germany.

German Jewish Leader: “Do You Still Want Us Jews?”

Germany has been debating circumcision since a German court ruled in June that the ritual was unlawful.
Now Charlotte Knobloch, 79, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has had enough. In a furious editorial published on Wednesday in one of the country’s top newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung, she said the controversy was calling the existence of Germany’s small Jewish community into question and asked: “Do you still want us Jews?”
“For 60 years I have defended Germany as a survivor of the Shoah. Now I ask myself if that was right,” she wrote. Knobloch is president of the Munich Jewish community and vice president of the World Jewish Congress.


A New Proposal for Settling Holocaust Survivors’ Insurance Claims

The debate on what to do about the unclaimed life insurance policies of Holocaust survivors and their descendants bore the first new idea in years, with a proposal from the World Jewish Congress breaking what many in the Jewish community feel was a deadlock of disagreeable compromises.
The proposal, written by WJC general counsel Menachem Rosensaft and published by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, would require German insurance companies to hire an independent monitor to ensure all still-unresolved claims are being dealt with fairly and judged under relaxed standards agreed to at an earlier conference.
In the U.S., a bill proposed in Congress would allow survivors or their families to sue these companies in U.S. federal court. The Senate judiciary committee heard testimony in June from both proponents and detractors of the bill. Supporters say the bill would allow them their day in court; Rosensaft and others say, however well intentioned, the bill would give survivors false hope.

Compromise Proposed To Resolve Insurance Claims

A proposal to have an independent monitor oversee European insurance companies’ efforts to pay all outstanding Holocaust-era policies appears to be gaining traction among major Jewish organizations. Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, said he suggested the proposal after hearing survivors plead with Congress for the right to sue insurance companies they believe have withheld death benefits on the policies of those killed in the Holocaust. Rosensaft said his organization supports the proposal because it wants to see survivors collect their benefits now. He said he fears that even if Congress passed legislation giving survivors the right to sue the insurance companies, “at most it would be a pyrrhic victory” because they might not live long enough to see their court cases decided.