Category Archive: THE ARTS

Dutch Jewish wedding film from 1939 shines light on doomed community

The only known pre-Holocaust footage of an obliterated Frisian Jewish community, footage offers hope while memorializing Nazi victims

Boas-Pais-CROPAMSTERDAM (JTA) — The Jews of Friesland, a region in the northern Netherlands, are not known for stories with happy endings.

During the Holocaust, Friesland’s vibrant Jewish community was forever obliterated, including its endemic customs and distinct Yiddish dialect. It is one of the starkest examples of how the Holocaust decimated and irreparably changed Dutch Jewry.

That’s why the recent surfacing of a unique film from 1939 showing the wedding of a Frisian Jewish couple who escaped the genocide is generating remarkable reactions from local media and Dutch state historians here over the past week.

The film is the only known footage of Frisian Jewish life from before the Holocaust. Its discovery comes amid a wave of popular interest in the Holocaust in the Netherlands, including in films and series with record ratings and in the construction of monuments – most recently with the opening last year of the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.

The silent, black-and-white film was the subject of a special aired last week in prime time by the region’s public broadcaster, Omrop Fryslân. All the region’s main dailies reported on it, as did some national publications — including the Netherlands’ main television guide. Placed on YouTube by the Frisian Film Archive on January 25, it received thousands of hits, becoming the archive’s second-most-watched video over the past two years.

The couple’s children handed it over this month to the Frisian Film Archive after finding it in their late mother’s suitcase in 2008. They had hung onto it for nearly a decade to “come to terms with it,” Andre Boers, one of the couple’s three children, told JTA on Tuesday.

The seven-minute film posted online last week — excerpted from longer footage — shows the bride, Mimi Dwinger, wearing a form-fitting satin wedding dress and riding a horse-drawn carriage with her fiancé, Barend Boers. It’s a sunny spring day and the couple is headed from Leeuwarden City Hall to the local synagogue.

As elegantly dressed women and men wearing top hats stream into the synagogue, other locals from the Jewish quarter of this poor, provincial city gather around the entrance for a better view of what seems to be an unusually opulent affair.

Inside the synagogue, which seems full to capacity with wedding guests, the region’s chief rabbi, Abraham Salomon Levisson, officiates. He’s wearing the black hexagonal hat favored by Sephardic rabbis — an influence brought to Holland by Portuguese Jews. Smiling, Boers signs the ketubah, the religious marriage contract.

The ring is too small for a comfortable fit. Boers flashes an amused smile at the camera as Dwinger quickly licks her finger to make it easier to slip on the jewelry. Touchingly, Boers holds up her veil while she does this.

The newlywed couple appears relaxed at the reception held at the local Jewish kosher hotel, The German Eagle. The guests chat and, after a few glasses of advocaat — Dutch eggnog — they giggle at the cameraman. The excerpt — the full footage was given on loan to the archive earlier this month — ends with Boers gently kissing his wife on the forehead.

Nothing about the film suggests that the people featured in it had any idea their world was coming to an end.

Just a year after filming, the people in the movie would come under the Nazi occupation that decimated the Frisian Jewish community, along with 75 percent of Dutch Jews — the highest death rate in occupied Western Europe.

For example, the body of the congregation’s rabbi, Levisson, was found in 1945 inside a German cattle car that was full of dead or dying Jews when the advancing Russian army encountered it in Eastern Europe.

The bride’s father, Moses, was arrested and sent to the death camps in 1943. Fewer than 10 members of his extended family of about 100 survived the war, according to Andre Boers.

Though the Jews in the film appear relaxed, Frisian Jews did have an inkling of the storm heading their way, according to Hans Groeneweg, a historian at the Frisian Resistance Museum, a state-funded institution entrusted with documenting the occupation years.

“The bride you see smiling in that film, she’s a woman running for her life,” he told the Frisian Broadcasting Authority in a 25-minute round table discussion that aired January 25. Levisson was especially aware of the danger, as he had been helping settle in the Netherlands refugees from neighboring Nazi Germany for years.

While few of their relatives and guests survived, the lovebirds plotted the escape that saw them survive against all odds.

They escaped the Netherlands in 1942, through France and Spain to Jamaica. Boers enlisted to fight with the Allies, while his wife volunteered to work for the British War Office. Boers participated in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944 as part of a Dutch brigade that fought embedded within the Canadian army.

The couple returned to the liberated Netherlands. Boers died in 1979 at 69. His widow, Mimi, passed away nine years ago at 90. Her three children now live in Amsterdam and Israel. The Frisian Film Archive learned of the film’s existence after the family offered to give the 16mm footage to the archive on loan.

“For decades we’ve been looking for footage from the Jewish community before the war, and now here it is,” Syds Wiersma, an archivist for the Frisian Film Archive, told the regional broadcaster last week.

The film’s appeal, according to Groeneweg, the resistance museum historian, isn’t just its rarity.

“It offers hope — hope that not all the people in that film died in the camps, that a few managed to escape, after all,” he said.

But for Andre Boers, Mimi and Barend’s middle child, who is living in Israel, the film has a far more personal significance. Before the family found it, he had not seen moving images of many of the relatives featured.

It’s a “highly emotional opportunity to see my grandparents, great-grandmother, uncles, aunties and many others just a few years before most of them were murdered by the Nazis,” he wrote last week on Facebook.


German schoolbook publisher apologizes for anti-Semitic illustration

Klett-Verlag says it will issue substitute page to cover image depicting euro as ‘Rothschild bank’ devouring Europe

000_DV2064123-e1435144059423BERLIN — A schoolbook publisher in the German capital has apologized for using an anti-Semitic illustration in a text about the euro crisis and said it will send a substitute page to schools.

On Thursday, Berlin-based Klett-Verlag also said it was halting all further deliveries of the book, calling the error “serious.”

The substitute page can be pasted in, and the book will not be removed from German schools’ bookshelves.

Klett-Verlag told Vice magazine blogger Philipp Frohn that the “regrettable mistake” would be corrected in a future edition, which will not come out for several years.

At issue is an image in the firm’s textbook about politics, called “Impulses 2.” It depicts the euro as a Pacman-like chomping mouth about to devour Europe superimposed over a symbol with the words “Rothschild Bank.”

The notion that the Jewish banking family is controlling the world for its own selfish purposes “is a classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that the Nazis made good use of,” Frohn wrote.

“The message to pupils … is clear: The driving force behind the whole nasty affair is a bank. A Jewish bank,” he added.

The book credits the notorious American illustrator David Dees, whose work the New York-based Anti-Defamation League called “anti-Semitic and conspiratorial” in a 2008 report. The ADL noted that Dees, on his own website, said he hoped his images would “wake others up about the onslaught of the elite’s power hungry world government plan of domination.”

His current illustrations include portrayals of Hillary Clinton as a zombie; Donald Trump chained around the neck by a golden fob bearing the words “The Fed” and a Star of David; and work suggesting that mass shootings in schools are a Jewish conspiracy against the NRA.

Frohn said the publisher reacted with surprise to his questions about how Dees’ illustration ended up in the textbook, which has been used in schools across Germany since 2012. The publisher responded after “internal discussions” to say that “the use of this caricature is in fact a regrettable mistake,” and promising to remove the image from its online version of the chapter “as soon as possible.” But it could take years before a new edition is published, a spokesperson added.

Furthermore, the spokesperson said the publisher no longer knows which external subcontractor was responsible for the content, but “we don’t work together anymore.”

“Schoolbooks should help students learn media literacy,” Frohn said. “And in times of right-wing propaganda, this skill should be more important than ever.”

The publisher is halting all further deliveries of the book and is sending a substitute page to all schools that are using the book, which can be pasted in. They described the error as “serious.”


The Holocaust for Communists

The East German-Bulgarian Holocaust movie ‘Sterne,’ screening this weekend at the New York Jewish Film Festival, is one of a group of visceral films made in Communist countries by or with people who survived the war

Sterne [Stars], an East German-Bulgarian co-production that won a major prize at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and thereafter fell into obscurity, is itself the story of a memory on the brink of oblivion—a movie in which, for a few hours, time stands still before swallowing its protagonists.

Showing this Sunday, Jan. 22, at the New York Jewish Film Festival in a new digital restoration that will doubtless be surfacing elsewhere, Sterne concerns a transport of Greek Jews, en route to Auschwitz, detained by some bureaucratic snafu at a remote Bulgarian village. They are corralled in the town for a day or two, just long enough for Walter, a bored, somewhat self-pitying German corporal tasked with overseeing these surprise arrivals, to develop a crush on one of their number, a young and radiantly selfless Jewish schoolteacher named Ruth.

The corporal, whose fellows have given him the mocking sobriquet “Rembrandt,” is a would-be artist. Not especially sensitive but nothing if not alienated, he is contemptuous of his German comrades and, vaguely yearning for some sort of contact, seeks a measure of acceptance from the locals he supervises, ignoring the fact that some are certainly partisans. A similar longing accounts for his fascination with Ruth who, in their first meeting, shames him into grudgingly providing the deportees with a bit of humanitarian assistance.

Walter turns out to be a romantic but Sterne, like Ruth, recognizes the impossibility of this brief-encounter romance. Walter’s several meetings with Ruth—who is, in effect, arrested so that he might enjoy her company—are luminous nocturnes in which the couple walks together through the deserted town. Stars shine down but the conclusion is forgone. Each time, they wind up in the graveyard.

Directed by Konrad Wolf from a screenplay by Angel Wagenstein, Sterne is a fairy tale, albeit a hardboiled one that never forgets the degraded conditions of the deportees or their fate. The story of Walter and Ruth is an extended parenthesis. Sterne is framed by performances of the Yiddish poet Mordechai Gebirtig’s Jewish-resistance anthem S’brent [It Is Burning], a song that circulated throughout the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Poland. Its first scene, with the Greek Jews lined up in the rain and packed into cattle cars, is repeated at the end.

As a movie, Sterne manages to be both lyrical and monumental. As a statement, it practices a dialectic of unity and isolation. “What was he looking for in our little Bulgarian town?” the film’s narrator asks over introductory footage of Walter wandering through the marketplace. The answer is: his humanity. Sterne is striking for its internationalism, particularly in a linguistic sense. The dialogue is in both German and Bulgarian. In addition to Gebirtig’s Yiddish laments, the movie includes the Hebrew prayer “Eli, Eli.” Ruth addresses her pupils in Greek. Most remarkably, there is an extended scene in which, among themselves, the Jews speak Ladino—making Sterne the only feature I know with dialogue in the language of the Sephardim.

While the film is not devoid of Communist idealism, the rote affirmation in which Walter finds solidarity with the (presumably Communist) partisans is subsumed by the final image of Ruth clutching at a train’s barred windows, speeding toward death as she stares into the camera, leveling a j’accuse at the audience.


Sterne is not only universal but highly specific with a backstory that requires a bit of unpacking. Bulgaria was something of a sideshow during World War II, although, as an ally of the Axis, the Balkan kingdom received chunks of Romania, Yugoslavia, and Greece—including parts of Macedonia and Thrace—then home to some 14,000 Jews.

While old Bulgaria’s 50,000 Jews were deprived of their rights, they were never, despite German insistence, deported en masse. On the other hand, Bulgaria provided the German army a land corridor to invade Greece and, starting in 1943, for some 75,000 Greek Jews (most of them from Salonika) to be shipped to Auschwitz. The government also allowed the Thracian and Macedonian Jews to be deported as well.

Dated October 1943, Sterne conflates the deportation of Greek and Thracian Jews while speaking to Angel Wagenstein’s personal experience. A Bulgarian-born Jew who spent his childhood in France, Wagenstein returned to Bulgaria to study and was an anti-fascist partisan during the war; in some sense, the movie is autobiographical.

In Andrea Simon’s documentary-portrait Angel Wagenstein: Art Is a Weapon (having its world premiere at the NYJFF), Wagenstein recalls witnessing the deportation of the Thracian Jews. He also suggests the character of Walter was based on an actual German corporal and identifies Bansko, the town in southwestern Bulgaria where Sterne was shot, as the cradle of the Bulgarian resistance movement.

Konrad Wolf’s experience of the war was less direct. East Germany’s leading director throughout the 1950s and ’60s, he was the son of the German-Jewish dramatist, medical doctor, and left-wing activist Friedrich Wolf (and the younger brother of East German spymaster Markus Wolf, whose autobiography, Man Without a Face, is filled with admiring references to his sibling’s movies).

Friedrich Wolf was briefly jailed for his 1929 play Cyanide, a defense of abortion rights, and went into exile once the Nazis came to power in 1933. His next drama, Professor Mamlock, which was written in France and premiered at the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theater in 1934, was among the first works to dramatize Nazi persecution of German Jews and made his international reputation. Professor Mamlock was filmed in the Soviet Union, Wolf’s adopted country, where it was well-received in 1938. His son Konrad released the film 23 years later in East Germany, to lesser acclaim.

Sterne, which would win a special-jury prize at Cannes, was released in March 1959—the same month that saw the opening of Hollywood’s first big Holocaust drama, The Diary of Anne Frank, also shown at Cannes. (While The Diary of Anne Frank was the first American movie to deal directly with the Holocaust, two earlier films—the 1953 Stanley Kramer production The Juggler, shot in Israel, and the 1956 independent feature Singing in the Dark—concerned traumatized Holocaust survivors played, respectively, by Kirk Douglas and Moishe Oysher.)

Not the first European film to depict the Holocaust, Sterne actually postdates a small cycle of movies were made in the 1940s. The earliest was a Soviet film, The Unvanquished (1945), directed by Mark Donskoi and starring Yiddish actor Venyamin Zuskin, that depicted a mass execution of Jews filmed on location at Babi Yar.

Marriage in the Shadows (1947)—directed in Soviet-occupied Germany by Kurt Maetzig, who, having a Jewish mother, had been forbidden by the Nazis to work and later joined an underground resistance group—was a film à clef. The movie dramatized the story of a well-known German actor who, refused permission to accompany his wife to the “model” concentration camp Theresienstadt, joined her in a suicide pact. Made in the American-occupied Germany with assistance from the U.S. Army, and consequently more positive, Israel Becker’s Long Is the Road (1948) was a quasi-autobiographical account of a young Polish Jew who jumps off an Auschwitz-bound transport to take his chances in the Polish countryside. (The movie was unfairly criticized as special pleading for Jewish DPs in the American press; it did later have a second life in a shortened version used as UJA fundraiser.)

One of the first films produced by the new Polish film industry, Natan Gross’s Yiddish-language Undzere Kinder (Our Children), 1948, was a semidocumentary of Jewish war orphans, many of whom enacted their actual situation for the camera. Two related films were produced almost simultaneously in Poland: Wanda Jakubowska’s powerfully disorienting The Last Stage (1948) was based on her own experiences in Auschwitz, and Alexander Ford’s Border Street (1948), a Czech-Polish co-production, had the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as its climax—scored to a near oratorio by composer Henoch Kon.

The masterpiece of this tendency was the Czech filmmaker Alfred Radok’s Distant Journey (1948), in which a Jewish doctor briefly forestalls her deportation to Theresienstadt by marrying a Czech colleague. As The Last Stage was partially shot on location in the women’s section of Auschwitz-Birkenau, so Distant Journey used Theresienstadt, where both Radok’s Jewish father and grandfather died. When the movie was shown in New York in September 1950, the Yiddish press reported the amazed public response of at least one spectator, who said that she recognized her fictional self in the film. The shock of recognition is crucial. Even today, Distant Journey et al. retain the urgency of an immediate response.

These eight films, plus Sterne, have several things in common. All, except Long Is the Road, were produced by Communist film industries that were not eager to focus on a specifically Jewish calamity. They are, in many ways, special cases. The most important thing was that they were made by and/or with people with first-hand experience of the Nazi war against the Jews—and can be considered a form of group psychodrama. More than movies, they were a form of testimony, not all of it welcome.

The state gave and the state took away. That, in most cases, these films were subsequently banned or shelved may explain why it has taken so long for them to enter the canon of Holocaust films. Shown at the first post-war Venice Film Festival, The Unvanquished received an award but disappeared from Soviet screens—and history—around the same time as its lead actor, Venyamin Zuskin, a victim of Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign.

The Last Stage, which won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 1948, was considered acceptable, but Undzere Kinder was not. It was never shown in Poland (and also did poorly when a print made its way to Israel in 1950). Border Street was highly popular in Poland until it was banned, supposedly by order of Stalin, and likely cost Ford his job as the head of Polish film production. Distant Journey, which, like Border Street, acknowledged the role of indigenous anti-Semitism, was banned in Czechoslovakia—even as it was distributed abroad—and served to compromise Radok’s career.

Sterne was the first film to implicate Bulgarian authorities in the deportation of Thracian and Macedonian Jews. Despite its international acclaim, the movie was banned in Bulgaria for its “abstract humanism,” and Wagenstein did not make another film for several years.



Through studying the Holocaust, Cambodians deal with own genocide

In a meeting of minds, a small town Indiana teacher and a Cambodian scholar documenting the Khmer Rogue atrocities create a workshop for comparative genocide education in Battambang

Kelly-with-intepretor-e1481836641970-965x543NOBLESVILLE, Indiana — Neighbor turned against neighbor. Family members disappeared. Faced with ostracism or even death, youth pledged allegiance to a cause they hadn’t necessarily sought — and committed unspeakable crimes against their countrymen.

There are still landmines in Cambodia, where an estimated 1.7 million people died between 1975 to 1979 under the extremist Khmer Rouge government. Today, however, many of these landmines are not physical, rather unspoken tragedy that looms from the past into the nation’s future.

Some 70% of Cambodians were born after the notorious Killing Fields, but mandatory education about the genocides only began in 2009. And while the Khmer Rouge government ostensibly fell in 1979, in a pragmatic attempt to unify and stabilize a nation reeling from murder and betrayal, Cambodian politicians quickly formed alliances with Khmer Rouge members: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the longest-serving leaders in the world, is himself a former member.

Cambodia is now facing a turning point, said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), the world’s largest archive of photography and documents relating to the Khmer Rouge.

“On the one hand, Cambodians run a real risk of losing a firm grip on understanding, memorializing and ultimately accepting a difficult past. On the other hand, a rapidly globalizing Cambodia must take on new challenges of sustainable growth, democratic integrity and human rights,” said Chhang, who was named Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2007.

DC-Cam was founded in 1994 through a grant to Yale University from the United States Congress’ Cambodian Genocide Justice Act. Today an NGO, the organization addresses the country’s genocidal past while working to preserve memory and justice.

Chhang told The Times of Israel that one way to deepen the understanding of the Cambodian tragedy is through the study of other global genocides.

Enter Kelly Watson, an eighth grade English teacher from Noblesville, Indiana, who recently spent a week in Battambang, Cambodia, teaching about the Holocaust.

Sound like the wrong cue for this post-genocide Cambodian stage play? That’s because Watson wasn’t exactly typecast.

The long windy road to Battambang

Meeting with The Times of Israel a day after running a marathon — not her first or last for this year — Watson said she was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The small city near the Ohio border has, among its quaint nicknames, the moniker “The City of Churches.”

In a cute coffee shop chosen to show off the historic Noblesville town square, Watson said that in her first gig as an English teacher back in the mid-1990s in Lebanon, Indiana, she wasn’t what one could call an expert in the Holocaust when her department chair handed her a rummage sale copy of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” to teach the class.

Watson laughed and said at that point in her life the sum-total of her Holocaust education was a vague memory of watching Meryl Streep’s “Holocaust” mini-series in 1978 and a supposition she’d probably once read “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Reading the Wiesel masterpiece memoir set in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, she quickly understood she just didn’t have the professional background or tools to do the topic justice. But she couldn’t find the appropriate resources in Indiana.

The early 1990s, however, was a tipping point for Holocaust awareness in the United States. With “Schindler’s List” and the much publicized opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in 1993, the topic was becoming more accessible to a growing audience.

And so, although she’d never before left the state of Indiana on her own, Watson applied and was accepted to the Washington, DC, museum’s Belfer National Conference for Educators. That conference led to a subsequent fellowship at USHMM, and eventually Watson became a part of the museum’s Regional Education Corps.

In between her day job as an eighth grade English teacher (now at Fishers Junior High) and parenting, Watson began to lecture, among other places, at Indiana’s Bureau of Jewish Education, which today supports the Holocaust Education Center of Indiana. She had become the resource she herself had sought.

While acquiring the skills to be an expert Holocaust educator at USHMM, Watson met a number of like-minded teachers who wanted to apply the lessons learned from the genocide against the Jews in other conflict zones. Independently, these friends organized trips to teach in Rwanda and Bosnia, before eventually founding a non-profit in 2011 called the Educators’ Institute for Human Rights.

Watson is currently an educational program director for EIHR. The project, she said, teaches the best practices of Holocaust and comparative genocide education to teachers, who bring them into the classroom.

Two years ago, with the Rwandan and Bosnian programs ongoing since 2011, EIHR was ready to expand to other conflict zones. Watson chose Cambodia and said she “blindly emailed” DC-Cam’s Youk Chhang, whom she calls “a force.” He immediately responded and the past two years were spent in planning.

In October, Watson was the first EIHR emissary to Cambodia, where she presented on the Holocaust to 100 Cambodian history teachers.

Searching for Anne Frank of the Killing Fields

With enough troubles of their own in their recent past, why should Cambodians want to learn about the Holocaust?

“The history that precipitated the Holocaust carries lessons for every human being regardless of culture, religion, or circumstance,” Chhang explained to The Times of Israel.

“Cambodians, even the generations born after the genocide collapsed in 1979, understand the suffering of survivors and the impact of genocide on a people and society,” he said. “No genocide, mass atrocity, or social upheaval can be compared to another, but there are certainly general trends, insights, and lessons that have great value in the classroom. We need to study and teach these lessons not only for our own society but other societies suffering today and in the future.”

In 2002, Chhang initiated and edited a translation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” into Khmer. It was distributed to high school students and also broadcasted on local radio stations “to inspire the local population to learn about their own Anne Frank of the Killing Fields at home,” said Chhang.

“Cambodians studying the Holocaust… can discern lessons that are useful today. The resilience of the survivors of the Holocaust is a reference for how Cambodians can overcome their past,” Chhang said.

In 2007, DC-Cam published its high school history text book, which included Cambodia’s own genocidal past. “In 2009, it became compulsory for all high schools across the country – which is over 1,700 high schools,” said Chhang.

Despite exposure to “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Cambodians know little about Jews or Judaism, or the Holocaust, said Watson. With Watson’s help and that of teachers like her, Chhang is hoping to change that. He said DC-Cam has a variety of proposed national projects to integrate more Holocaust and other cross-cultural mass atrocity education into Cambodian public schools.

“As the principle partner working with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, we intend to incorporate more educational modules addressing the Holocaust as well as other examples of mass atrocity,” said Chhang.

Finding patterns amongst the pain

The US Holocaust Museum is currently hosting two exhibits through October 2017, which highlight the Khmer Rouge period: “Cambodia 1975-1979” features survivor testimony, photographs and videos, and “I Want Justice!” depicts efforts of post-genocide retribution on perpetrators — from the Nazi Nuremberg trials to today’s prosecution of several key Khmer Rouge members.

In late November, a 2014 conviction was upheld of two surviving top Khmer Rouge leaders of crimes against humanity, including extermination, enforced disappearances and political persecution. Currently, they are on trial for, among other crimes, separate allegations of the genocide of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese and Chams.

In addition to museums, the comparative study of genocide among scholars is now de rigueur. Across the globe, there are undergraduate and graduate university programs for Genocide Studies, most with a concentration on the Holocaust.

The Yale University Genocide Studies Program, however, was founded in 1998 after originally concentrating on Cambodia (the genesis for the NGO DC-Cam). Today, the program covers topics ranging from Ancient Genocides to War Crimes and Truth Commissions.

Prof. Ben Kiernan is the founding director of the Yale program. In an email exchange with The Times of Israel, he said teaching about genocides in countries that have experienced them highlights patterns and “offers citizens access to very important data for predicting and hopefully preventing future outbreaks.”

Exhaustively collecting information and comparing it with other cases, allows scholars to “explore what similarities exist (for instance in the statements, plans, and activities of the perpetrators), and therefore try to identify in advance what might become the signposts to the next case of genocide, and enable humanity to stop it before it occurs,” said Kiernan.

“At the very least, careful comparison of different cases of mass murder often reveals unexpected similarities,” he said.

In many instances, what may seem like politically motivated “purges” could in fact be something even more sinister. Taking the case of Cambodia as an example, he stated, “although the mass murder that took place there in 1975-1979 appeared to many observers to be far from an ethnic genocide, but rather a case of political mass murder, in fact the groups that suffered the highest proportions of killings were ethnic groups, namely the Vietnamese, Muslim Cham and ethnic Chinese minorities, even though in absolute numbers the ethnic Khmer majority suffered the most.”

Using the ‘other’s genocide as safe space

Through learning about the Holocaust and the seven stages of genocide, Watson felt Cambodian history teachers “did see the connections and that’s what I was hoping for.”

According to Watson, teaching a comparative study of genocide has other, more immediate and personal implications as well. In looking at their own genocide through the prism of the Holocaust, after decades of suppression of memories, the Cambodian teachers may feel “safer” in addressing them, she said.

“You don’t compare genocides in terms of the amount of pain they caused. Every genocide is absolutely unique,” said Watson. It’s not easy to address an issue “when you’re surrounded by it,” she said. In Cambodia, “the war is still very much with them.”

Many teachers in conflict countries are survivors of genocide themselves, if not the children of survivors. It is important, said Watson that they feel part of a community that understands what it means to be facing a classroom filled with children or grandchildren of perpetrators.

After this first initial visit by Watson, there are plans for more Educators’ Institute for Human Rights teacher trainings in Cambodia, as well as a swap with teachers in the US. Through the dissemination of their personal experiences, alongside the acquisition of theoretical knowledge of genocide, DC-Cam’s Chhang hopes these teachers can make a positive change in the world.

“The circumstances that precipitated the descent into violence and the dehumanization of people bear witness to ways to improve the human condition and make the statement ‘never again’ really matter,” said Chhang.


The Christmas Cookie That Changed Jewish Lives

Lebkuchen have long been a Christmas treat in Germany. But for two Jewish families fleeing the Nazis, these cookies offered hope for the future in a new country.

Like many Americans before her, Sandy Lee stumbled into culinary nirvana while living abroad in Europe. But while most people return home raving about the spectacular cheese or wine or charcuterie, Lee fell in love with a cookie. The particular object of her fascination was lebkuchen—a complexly spiced cousin to gingerbread that is ubiquitous in Christmas markets across Germany.

Lee, a New Yorker who works in the world of advertising and finance but has a penchant for passion projects, first tasted the cookie while living in Berlin. “It was such a magical combination of flavors,” she said, speaking of lebkuchen’s ginger, cardamom, and cloves, its rich nuttiness, and candied citrus peel. “I kept going back and trying different kinds, and I got a little obsessed.” After discovering that lebkuchen are all-but-impossible to find in New York, she started to make them at home. Never mind that she had no German background and had never been much of a baker—she was on a mission.

Her deep dive into lebkuchen resulted in an impressive collection of vintage cookie tins and 19th-century German baking trade manuals, and a year’s worth of trial-and-error attempts to re-create the cookie she loved. “I would travel to Nuremberg to try every type of lebkuchen I could find, remember what I liked best, and reverse-engineer the recipe based on the ingredient lists,” she said. Lee’s research began as a personal quest but soon morphed into a business. In 2011, Lee launched Leckerlee, a boutique business that sells an authentic (and very delicious) take on classic lebkuchen throughout the Christmas season.

Through founding Leckerlee, Lee also tapped into an unexpected, and rather astonishing, side story. It turns out, her beloved Christmas cookie played an instrumental role in the survival of two families of Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Shortly after launching Leckerlee, Lee was contacted by a man named Bill Freund. Freund, now 90, is the former chief economist of the New York Stock Exchange and a retired economics professor. But he is also, as he told Lee over the phone, the author of a 2011 children’s book called The Cookie That Saved My Family. In 1937, his family left Nuremberg and the escalating persecution that Jews were facing there. In the weeks before their departure, his mother, Paula, whom Freund described as “a marvelous baker,” persuaded a local pastry chef to teach her how to make traditional lebkuchen—a recipe that tends to be closely guarded by those lucky enough to know it.

“Nuremberg is the lebkuchen capital of the world,” Freund told me. “And she was thinking of ways to make a living in our new home.” Although he was just a child at the time, Freund has distinct memories of the baker coming to his house to instruct his mother on which spices to use and how to properly form and glaze the cookies.

Upon arriving in Manhattan, Freund’s parents took menial jobs to scrape by. But in 1939, when WWII broke out and German goods could no longer be imported to the United States, they started a bakery called Paula’s Lebkuchen in their Washington Heights neighborhood. Open from Labor Day through January, they sold the Christmas cookies and other turnovers to the neighborhood’s heavily German immigrant population.

Meanwhile, 10 miles away and across the East River, another Jewish lebkuchen story unfolded in Jackson Heights, Queens. In 1939, Ed Klugman said goodbye to his parents and his hometown of Nuremberg and boarded a kindertransport train to England. It would be one of the last before the war began. As he left, his parents gave him a book of recipes with the urgent instruction to keep it safe until the family could be reunited in the United States. The book, which came from a high-end pastry shop, was fat and heavy, filled with detailed illustrations for decorating pastries and cakes—and a recipe for lebkuchen. Klugman’s father was in the liquor business in Nuremberg but, like Freund’s mother, had researched other possible professions to pursue in America.

“I’m not sure how my parents originally got the recipe book, but it was a wise move,” Klugman, 91 and a retired professor of early childhood development, said. “It would become the backbone of my father’s new career in the United States.” Indeed, the Klugman family, who reunited in New York in 1940, would eventually open the Liberty Brand Cookie Company in Jackson Heights, a bakery that specialized in lebkuchen and other high-end cookies.

According to Luisa Weiss, a Berlin-based food writer and author of the recently published cookbook Classic German Baking, lebkuchen is a blanket German term for gingerbread, encompassing “multiple dozens” of spiced and honeyed cookies baked during the Christmas season. They date back to the 13th century, where they originated in German monasteries. As Gil Marks wrote in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the monks often “maintained not only baking ovens, but also apiaries and orchards, which provided honey and walnuts” for baked goods.

The most renowned variety, and the one that Lee re-creates at Leckerlee, is Elisenlebkuchen from Nuremberg—a dense, chewy pastry made primarily from almond paste and ground hazelnuts, studded with candied orange and citron peel, and covered with a thin sugar or velvety chocolate glaze. They are baked on top of small, edible wafers called oblaten, Weiss told me, which helps keep the batter from spreading in the oven. Oblaten are very similar in shape and composition to the communion wafers used in Catholic services. Freund told me that after World War II began, the oblaten his family had imported from Holland became unavailable. “We went to a Catholic Church and asked where they got their wafer from,” he told me. “They pointed us to a manufacturer in Chicago.” Problem solved.

There is no denying that lebkuchen are a Christmas specialty. But they were also enjoyed in Germany’s Jewish communities. According to Marks, Jewish families began baking different varieties lebkuchen as early as the 15th century, preparing them at home so as to avoid the monasteries. “Its pareve nature made it ideal for meat occasions,” he wrote. The cookie was served on Rosh Hashanah because of the honey it contained, and also during Hanukkah since it was Christmas-adjacent. The earliest Jewish American cookbooks, from Aunt Babette’s Cook Book to The Settlement Cook Book (both written by German-Jewish immigrants) contained recipes for lebkuchen.

For decades, when neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Yorkville on Manhattan’s Upper East Side were home to sizable German immigrant populations, lebkuchen were widely available. Today, imported versions (and also Lee’s lebkuchen) are sold at a few specialty shops like Schaller & Weber. But without Lee’s renewed enthusiasm for the cookie, they would have been essentially lost to New York history. Meanwhile, without Lee, Freund and Klugman would never have connected. Despite their geographical proximity and parallel histories, Freund and Klugman had never heard of one another, nor of their competing businesses, until Lee connected them over the phone. “What amazes me is how well we were both able to fare, despite the odds,” Klugman told me. “I’m grateful.”

Two Jewish boys from Nuremberg, two recipes for lebkuchen shuttled across the Atlantic Ocean, two unlikely stories of survival. You might just call it a Christmas miracle.



Report on Anne Frank’s capture sparks frustration among experts

Following release of study suggesting Holocaust diarist and her family were not betrayed, Anne Frank House responds to criticism of its ‘obvious mistakes’

amsterdam-132-e1400073323897-847x543Exactly how the Holocaust’s most famous victim came to be captured by the Nazis has intrigued the public for decades. A new study produced by the Anne Frank House is providing the latest set of theories to embroil researchers yet again.

Released earlier this month, the report examines events and people surrounding the arrest of Anne Frank, her family and four other Jews who hid in the backrooms of an Amsterdam office building belonging to the company of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Unlike most prior studies, the new report focuses on possibilities other than the traditionally accepted “betrayal phone call” narrative, wherein someone who knew of the Jews in hiding reported them to authorities.

Calling the betrayal “an assumption that simmers on,” the Anne Frank House’s chief researcher, Gertjan Broek, told The Times of Israel the topic of the arrest is “one of the most frequently asked questions.”

To prepare their report, Broek and his team spent two years looking into details tied to the Nazis’ August 4, 1944, raid on the Secret Annex. According to Broek, there is no hard evidence behind a phone call having taken place, and it is just as likely that authorities descended on the office to investigate illegal workers, forged ration coupons, or other suspicious business practices.

In other words, Anne Frank and her family were not necessarily “betrayed,” but could have been the victims of happenstance in a Nazi-occupied city brimming with resistance activities. In Amsterdam, “everything was a risk, everything. [People could not] evade taking chances or risks,” said Broek.

However, the focus on possibilities other than a betrayal has irked some researchers, including Germany-based Melissa Müller, author of an acclaimed biography on Anne Frank published in 1998. According to Müller, the Anne Frank House’s new study is short on new facts and makes “obvious mistakes,” she said.

“This theory is not new at all, and there are not enough reliable sources to switch over to these ‘new’ explanations for the raid on the Prinsengracht,” said Müller. The Prinsengracht is a winding Amsterdam canal along which Frank’s office building resided, adjacent to a neighborhood — the Jordaan — filled with black market and resistance activity during 1944.

According to Müller and researcher Gerlof Langerijs, with whom she partnered to answer The Times of Israel’s questions, mistakes and “a lack of proof” in the Anne Frank House’s report have damaged its credibility.

“The reactions in the Netherlands are very negative,” said Müller. “[Broek] does not have any proof and is just causing confusion,” she said.

For instance, Müller took issue with Broek’s claim that the two-hour raid on the canal building was significantly longer than a normal Nazi arrest of Jews in hiding. According to Müller, two hours for such a raid was “not long at all, measured in 1944 circumstances and slower life speed,” said the author.

Müller also disagreed with the report’s claim that a lack of working telephone lines in Amsterdam during early August 1944 would have made a betrayal phone call unlikely. In Müller’s opinion, this is an example of researchers boosting a theory with questionable assumptions.

Müller does, however, agree with Broek that the betrayal phone call is something of a red herring, or, as she put it, “a mystification, and a typical example of how a story is passed on from one person to the next,” said Müller.

Another point of contention for Müller and Langerijs is the study’s assessment of workers in the warehouse below the Secret Annex, as well as travelling sales representatives who regularly visited the building. That some of these men and women were under the gaze of authorities for illegal activities has been known for decades, said Müller, yet there is still no evidence connecting one of them to the raid.

“Saying that there was ‘messing around with ration cards and illegal workers’ [as the study] suggests much, but proves nothing,” said Müller.

According to Broek and others at the Anne Frank House, the new research “doesn’t make claims that can’t be substantiated,” and possibilities such as the arrest being tied to something other than a phone call about Jews in hiding should be considered.

“Despite decades of research, betrayal as a point of departure has delivered nothing conclusive,” said Annemarie Bekker, spokesperson for the Anne Frank House, one of the Netherlands’ top tourist attractions.

“Our new investigation does not refute the possibility that the people in hiding were betrayed, but illustrates that other scenarios should also be considered,” Bekker told The Times of Israel. “Hopefully more researchers will see reason to follow up on new leads,” she said.

The ultimate ‘cold case’

For several decades, according to biographer Melissa Müller, the Anne Frank House “thought it was not their task to do any deeper research on the story by themselves, although they had some fine researchers on their staff,” she said.

“Back then the suggestions to take a deeper look into certain subjects were constantly put off the table,” said Müller. “To go public with this kind of research is new to them,” she said, referring to the report released this month about the fateful raid on Otto Frank’s office building.

In 2002, researchers including Müller’s colleague, Gerlof Langerijs, presented the Anne Frank House with a flowchart of possible “external factors,” or leads, which the Nazis might have been pursuing when they decided upon a raid, said Müller.

That it took the Anne Frank House 14 years to pursue these leads is “remarkable,” said Müller, who published an updated and expanded edition of her Anne Frank biography in 2013.

“In the past there were more and more urgent moments to point out this possibility,” said Müller.

“Many people think it is not much more than a publicity attempt,” said Müller of the study. “Just another theory after many theories have already been published — lacking convincing facts. In their letters to the editor, people complain about the study’s conclusion [being] based on ‘coincidences,’” she said.

According to Broek, he and Müller have met several times to discuss “every detail of Anne Frank’s life, and [the arrest] is always a part of the conversation,” he said. Broek emailed Müller a series of questions related to his study one year ago, to which the author responded, he said.

“I have not heard of any confusion inside of the Netherlands or outside of it,” said Broek about Müller’s claim the study is causing confusion.

Among other researchers of Anne Frank and the Nazi occupation in Amsterdam, there is general admiration for the arrest study. However, there is also frustration about an ongoing lack of closure.

“I still have the same opinion as I had before the publication of the new study of the Anne Frank House,” said Ad van Liempt, an expert on the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands during WWII and author of the book, “Hitler’s Bounty Hunters.”

Calling the study “well done and very interesting,” van Liempt added, “it is disappointing that there is no concrete conclusion. We cannot blame Mr. Broek and his research team. They did a good job, offered us a new view but couldn’t prove it. That is what, unfortunately, often happens in history research,” said van Liempt, who provided feedback to the Anne Frank House during the report’s creation, according to Broek.

“We know about thousands of Jews in the Netherlands, whether they were betrayed or not,” van Liempt told The Times of Israel. “But we don’t know about the most famous family of all, and sure, this bothers. I am still very curious, but I am afraid that I will never know what happened in this case,” said van Liempt.

Researchers close to Anne Frank’s story have expressed similar frustration, along with concerns that future research be directed toward appropriate ends.

“I cannot imagine that this new theory of happenstance rather than betrayal would have made one iota of difference to Miep Gies and the rest of the helpers, much less to Anne and the other six people in hiding who were murdered,” said journalist Steve North, referring to the Dutch woman who took care of the Jews in hiding and rescued Frank’s diary after the arrest.

North was the last journalist to interview Miep Gies before her death in 2010. He told The Times of Israel that Gies — were she still living — “might question why a new vague and ambiguous ‘research study’ was necessary at this particular time,” said North, whose 1998 interview with Gies took place in her Amsterdam apartment, where some of the Frank family’s furniture remained after the war.

‘I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed’
“I can only hope that this study was motivated by the search for an historical truth, and not by a need to keep the rewarding business of Anne Frank well-marketed and flourishing,” said North.

Another writer who interviewed Gies is Alison Leslie Gold, author of the 1987 book, “Anne Frank Remembered,” in which Gold partnered with Gies to tell Frank’s story from the perspective of the woman who hid and cared for eight Jews in the Secret Annex and — rarely mentioned — an “underground” Dutch student who hid in her and husband Jan Gies’ apartment.

“I hesitate to weigh in,” said biographer Gold, “since analyzing the arrests from this ‘new’ angle — though it might shut some doors — also opens new doors, presents new implications, poses new questions,” Gold told The Times of Israel.

“It seems as if many more dots need to be connected before we reconfigure the tragedy that ended or blighted the lives of so many,” said Gold.


Author P.G. Wodehouse’s apologia of Nazi-Germany broadcasts revealed

Branded a traitor in his native England, humorist began an unpublished memoir of his time being held in Berlin, but manuscript never saw the light of day

p-g-_wodehouse_1930-e1483039390735-635x357Details from an unpublished work by author P.G. Wodehouse — in which he reveals his feelings over controversial radio broadcasts he made while held by the Nazis in Germany that saw him branded a traitor in Britain — came to light this week.

The Times of London was given access to the pages which Wodehouse stopped writing after just a few chapters when friends advised him against revisiting his controversial war years.

Wodehouse, who gained fame on both sides of the Atlantic with his tales of bumbling aristocrat Bertie Wooster and inimitable butler Jeeves, made a series of radio broadcasts from Berlin in the summer of 1941 titled “How to be an Internee Without Previous Training” in which he gave a light-hearted account of his experiences while being held prisoner by the Germans.

The original typed sheets held by the New York Public Library were never published, but a copy has now been placed in the British Library.

The pages — an incomplete memoir and apologia defending himself against accusations of being a Nazi sympathizer — include the comedy writer’s responses to critics of his wartime actions. Wodehouse’s most notable critic was his former friend, A.A. Milne, who authored the Winnie-The-Pooh children’s stories.

Although Wodehouse never expressed any support or sympathy for the Nazi cause, the programs went down badly in Britain that had just suffered the Blitz, the heavy German air raids during 1940 and 1941. He was vilified in parliament, his work banned from the BBC and some libraries removed his books from their shelves.

In prose typical of his style, Wodehouse wrote “the global howl that went up as a result of my indiscretion exceeded in volume and intensity anything I have ever experienced since that time in my boyhood when I broke the ­curate’s umbrella and my aunts started writing letters to one another about it.”

Wodehouse admits in the papers that the broadcasts were a grave mistake but notes that it did not occur to him that there was any harm in them at the time.

“I overlooked completely the dangerous possibility that a wave of pro-German sentiment might be created in the United States by such revelations on my part as that when in camp I read Shakespeare, that when internees ran out of tobacco they smoked tea, that the Kommandant at Huy had short legs and didn’t like walking up hills, and that there was an unpleasant smell in my cell at Loos prison.”

Wodehouse, and his wife Ethel, were living in Le Touquet, France when the Germans invaded in 1940. The couple tried to escape but their car broke down and they were unable to make another attempt before being captured by the Germany army.

The Germans interned all male enemy nationals under the age of 60 and that included Wodehouse who was born in 1881. He was sent first to a former prison in Loos, a suburb of Lille, then moved through Belgium and finally held at Tost in Upper Silesia, German-held at the time, now Polish territory. Wodehouse was later moved to a hotel in Berlin and he made the broadcasts from the city. He remained in Germany with his wife until September 1943 after which he was allowed back to Paris and was in the city when it was liberated in August 1944.

Shortly after the liberation Wodehouse was questioned on separate occasions by British intelligence officers from MI6 and MI5 who both concluded that while the broadcasts were folly, there was no reason to prosecute him. However, the public animosity in his homeland remained and Wodehouse moved to the US in 1947, never returning to Britain. He was eventually honored with a knighthood in 1975, a month before his death. The MI5 report exonerating Wodehouse was only made public in 1980.

Feuding with Milne

The document also brought to light some details of his feud with fellow author Milne.

Wodehouse and Milne had been friends before the war but their relationship soured as a result of the broadcasts. One undated exchange came after Milne had recalled that Wodehouse, who had no children, once told him he would like a son but only if the boy was born aged 15.

“You see the advantage of that,” Milne wrote, according to the report. “Bringing up a son throws considerable responsibility on a man, but by the time the boy is 15 one has shifted the responsibility on to the housemaster.”

In response, Wodehouse skewered Milne for including his own son, Christopher Robin, in the Winnie-The-Pooh books.

“You misunderstand me, Mr [sic] Milne,” he wrote. “I was simply talking as one businessman to another. When we ­authors have infant sons, our first thought is to cash in on them, and what I meant was that you had nipped in first and cleaned up on your infant son so thoroughly that the racket was busted.

“By the time you had finished exploiting the commercial possibilities of the young Milne, infant sons had reached saturation point and there was no more money in the game. The public will accept one Christopher Robin going hoppity hoppity hop, but not a sort of Russian ballet of the offspring of rival authors going hoppity hoppity hop, too.”

Wodehouse explained his reasons for making the broadcasts, saying he wanted to express gratitude to his US fans who wrote to him while he was held and also that a speech using the same themes he made to some 200 fellow British prisoners when he was held in Tost had been very well received.

“I remember at the time being conscious of a slight smugness at the thought that I had it in me to treat internment lightly, a sort of complacent feeling that by not making heavy weather about it I was keeping my end up and proving myself worthy to associate with these fellow internees of mine,” he wrote. “But if you are going to condemn authors for being smug, you will hardly know where to start.”


Paris museum calls Auschwitz a ‘Bauhaus architectural achievement’

Local Jewish leader protests insult to the memory of death camp victims, says early 20th-century art movement ‘has enough lovely projects’

ruboff1526-resp1090-2PARIS (JTA) — A French arts museum defined the death camp Auschwitz as “an architectural achievement of the Bauhaus movement.”

The “Spirit of the Bauhaus,” which opened in October at the Museum of Decorative Arts, includes SS officer Fritz Ertl’s designs for the extermination camp among the major achievements of the modernist art movement and school active in the years preceding the rise of Nazism.

Historians of the movement have debated whether the school, which was denounced as decadent by the Nazi regime, bears responsibility for disciples who went on to work for the Third Reich.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, wrote a letter of protest Friday to the museum director.

In his statement, which Kalifat also sent to Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay, who is Jewish, he wrote: “The Bauhaus movement has enough lovely projects that make it unnecessary to insult the memory” of approximately 1 million Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Bauhaus was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that gave its name to the utilitarian architectural style perfected by many of the school’s graduates.

Tel Aviv, where many German Jews immigrated in the 1920s and ’30s, is one of the world’s most Bauhaus-rich cities, with more than 4,000 buildings classified as belonging to that style.

After the Nazis shuttered the school in 1933, most of its artists and architects left the country. Some who remained worked for the Nazis with various degrees of enthusiasm, according to Nicholas Fox Weber, the author of a book on the subject.

Ertl, who trained at Bauhaus from 1928 to 1931, became a member of the Waffen-SS in 1941 and contributed the plans of the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to Le Figaro. He and another architect, Walter Dejaco, were tried in Vienna in 1972 and acquitted on charges of abetting mass murder.