Category Archive: THE PRESS

Helen Thomas: Jews not persecuted in Europe after war

Former White House correspondent Helen Thomas said the Jews did not have to leave postwar Europe because they weren’t persecuted.In an interview Wednesday on CNN’s “Joy Behar” program, Thomas told Behar that once World War II ended, the Jews “didn’t have to go anywhere really, because they weren’t being persecuted anymore. But they were taking other people’s land.”Impromptu remarks that Thomas made last May to a rabbi video blogger about how the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Poland and Germany cost her her job as correspondent for the Hearst newspaper corporation. She now works for a newspaper in Virginia.Though Thomas apologized for the comment, follow-up remarks last December about how “the Zionists” own Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street caused further uproar, and prompted the Society of Professional Journalists to drop an award named for Thomas, who was a fixture on the White House beat for decades.In this week’s interview on CNN, Thomas said that when she said Jews should go back to Poland and Germany, “I should have said Russia too.”After the interview, Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said, “Helen Thomas, not content with previous offensive comments, now is either uncaring or spiteful of the terrible circumstances of post-Holocaust survivors in Europe — a shocking display of ignorance of events which occurred in her lifetime.”Thomas’ account of history is inaccurate. Attacks against Jews and persecution of Jews continued in Europe even after World War II, both in the years immediately following the war, such as during the Kielce, Poland pogrom of 1946, and in the decades since.

German, Polish leaders honor Holocaust victims

Germany’s president stood in silence Thursday before a gray concrete wall where Nazis executed Polish resistance members at Auschwitz, one gesture among many of his nation’s remorse during somber commemorations marking the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp.President Christian Wulff and the Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski, laid wreaths at the wall and walked with former camp inmates beneath the entrance gate bearing the inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei” _ or “Work Sets You Free” _ a notorious slogan used by the Nazis in camps where they subjected their victims to slave labor, torture and murder.The two leaders then traveled the short distance to Birkenau, the much vaster camp where Jews, Gypsies, and others were killed with factory-like efficiency in gas chambers.”The name Auschwitz stands unlike anything else for the crimes perpetuated by Germans against millions of human beings,” Wulff told a gathering of dignitaries and former camp inmates. “They fill us Germans with disgust and shame. They lay upon us a historical responsibility that is independent of individual guilt. We must never again allow such crimes to occur. And we must keep the memories alive.”The ceremony at Auschwitz is one of several being held across the world on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Berlin, the German parliament convened Thursday for a special session commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert told lawmakers that it is the duty of later generations to keep alive the memory of those murdered by German Nazis. For the first time, a survivor representing Sinti and Roma, or Gypsies, addressed the body, reminding lawmakers of what he called the “forgotten Holocaust” against 500,000 of his people.

Claims Conference Needs An Ombudsman

by Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Special To The Jewish Week

As chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, commonly known as the Claims Conference, and in many other positions of lay leadership, Julius Berman has given years of dedicated service to the Jewish community. I worked closely with him for several years in the Manhattan law firm of which he was a senior partner, and thus can speak with some authority about both his commitment to Jewish issues and his fundamental decency.Unfortunately, however, a statement made by Berman in these pages last week reflects a troubling, albeit, I am sure, unintentional, insensitivity to the very real anguish of Holocaust survivors. This response, then, is written not in anger but in sadness.Late last year, a Claims Conference negotiating team obtained an additional $145 million from the German government for home care services for survivors during 2011. Some 800 of between 13,000 and 18,000 survivors in south Florida, as well as others throughout the United States, already receive up to 25 hours a week of such care. Rather than augmenting the home care available to them, the Claims Conference determined, in what Staff Writer Stewart Ain of this newspaper termed a “difficult moral triage,” that the bulk of the increased funding would be used to benefit survivors around the world who presently receive no home care or less than 25 hours a week (“Fla. Survivors Caught In Cruel Funding Irony,” Dec. 31).Reacting to the article containing criticism of the Claims Conference’s allocation of these funds, Berman observed that “the extent of the need” of survivors in countries of the former Soviet Union, Argentina and Romania “outstrips” that of survivors in the United States. “The life of survivors in South Florida,” he wrote, “would seem like paradise to the elderly double victims of Nazism and Communism who are the most destitute Jews in the world and for whom Claims Conference funding is a literal lifeline. Molly Gruda, one of the South Florida survivors featured in the story, survived uterine cancer in addition to Auschwitz and a Nazi death march, suffers from spinal stenosis and congestive pulmonary disease, keeps an oxygen tank and nebulizer beside her recliner, and needs a wheelchair to get around.She is but one of many who live in difficult circumstances, often at or below the poverty line. The basic problem with Berman’s remark is that it will be read not just by the Claims Conference’s critics at whom it was aimed, but also by Molly Gruda and other survivors in North America who are certain to be deeply hurt by what they will interpret as a singular lack of compassion for their plight.In fairness, the entire reparations debate has escalated out of hand. David Schaecter, president of the Florida-based Holocaust Survivors Foundation, USA, churlishly dismissed the $145 million in additional home care funds made available by the German government as so “woefully inadequate” as to constitute “a blatant and ugly gesture that it is meaningless and hollow.” Schaecter’s real objection, of course, is that the newly obtained resources will benefit survivors other than his constituency. Other discordant noises indicate that the Claims Conference might benefit from an exorcism of sorts. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, a member agency of the Conference, has released a report criticizing the Claims Conference’s procedures with respect to the disposition of real property in the former East Germany. Israeli Holocaust survivors are boycotting an allocations advisory committee in protest against the Claims Conference’s policy of funding hospitals in Israel rather than focusing more narrowly on social services for survivors. In November, 17 individuals, including six present and former Claims Conference employees, were indicted for defrauding two funds administered by the Conference to the tune of $42 million.When the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, also a Claims Conference member, urged the appointment of an ombudsman to represent the interests of the survivors, Berman asked, “What would an ombudsman do?”For starters, an ombudsman might have suggested that gratuitously proclaiming what amounts to hierarchical degrees of need and suffering among survivors is an awful idea. The ombudsman might have pointed out that one survivor’s anxieties are not likely to be eased by a public reminder that available funds are being used to assuage another’s pain.An ombudsman might also have advised the Claims Conference leadership that a 26-person committee to review its allocations policies and procedures that does not include a single son, daughter or grandchild of survivors is flawed from its inception. The primary responsibility for the well being of aging, often infirm survivors is overwhelmingly shouldered by members of the so-called second and third generations. Simply put, to exclude us from this discussion is a serious error. The Claims Conference has performed, and continues to perform, a tremendously important function. Many, if not most, of its critics are similarly honorable and well intentioned. For the sake of the sacred cause to which they have dedicated themselves, Julius Berman and his colleagues should undertake a comprehensive, broad-based and open consultation with all relevant stakeholders to determine how the Claims Conference can best serve the needs of Holocaust survivors in their declining years.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

‘Sensational’ new claims over Nazi Eichmann

German intelligence knew Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was hiding out in Argentina eight years before Israeli agents kidnapped him in 1960, the Bild daily cited newly released documents as saying. “SS colonel Eichmann … is living in Argentina under the false name of Clemens. The editor of the ‘Der Weg’ German newspaper in Argentina knows E.’s address,” according to a 1952 document, Bild reported on Saturday.It took another six years for Germany to inform the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States, according to CIA documents made public in 2006, the German newspaper said.In 1960, Mossad agents kidnapped Eichmann in Buenos Aires. He was brought to Israel for trial, where he was convicted and hanged in 1962. The release of the documents came after the newspaper successfully sued the German government in the country’s highest court to force it to release them, Bild said.The paper cited historian Bettina Stangneth, who is due to publish a book about Eichmann in April, as calling the find a “sensation.”The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants called claims that Eichmann’s whereabouts were known “disturbing.” “Equally disturbing is the continued unwillingness of the BND to release the documents which could shed further light on this sad history and other questions related to the fate of Nazis after the War,” a statement said. “The question must be asked whether (German intelligence service) BND files will reveal assistance and aid given to these Nazis to escape and evade justice? History and memory demand the answer to this question.”

Comptroller slams ‘deficient’ efforts to return assets to Holocaust survivors

Micha Lindenstrauss says that the Company for Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets has operated inefficiently over the last four years. The Company for Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets has been deficient and slow in returning assets to victims and heirs for the last four years, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote in a report issued Monday. The report presented severe and often critical defects in the company’s actions, while the number of Holocaust survivors has rapidly decreased over the last few years.

Polish court sentences Swede over Auschwitz sign theft

A Swedish man was sentenced to nearly three years in prison Thursday for masterminding the theft of the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” sign from the entry gate of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.The enduring symbol of the Holocaust whose English meaning is “Work sets you free,” was stolen last December. The act triggered international outrage, especially in Israel and among Jewish groups, but the metal sign was soon recovered.The court in Krakow, southern Poland, sentenced Anders Hogstrom, 34, to two years and eight months in jail for orchestrating the theft.When the court announced its decision, Hogstrom said calmly: “Yes, I accept the verdict.” Hogstrom, caught in Sweden in February, will shortly be extradited back home to serve out his sentence.

Henry Kissinger faces tarnished reputation over ugly ‘gas chambers’ remark about Jews

Henry Kissinger is 87 years old but he remains a figure of considerable controversy. This Christmas, he has been battling to prevent his reputation being permanently tarnished over a 1973 remark he made to President Richard Nixon that was published on 11th December, buried deep in a New York Times article: The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern. Nixon replied:I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it. Kissinger (a Jew who fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1938) was excoriated. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg described the words as “among the most vile ever spoken by a Jew about his own people”. Kissinger’s nemesis Christopher Hitchens may be likely to go to his grave before the former US Secretary of State but he was not about to let what might be a final opportunity to blast the man he “tried” in book form nearly a decade ago, writing: In the past, Kissinger has defended his role as enabler to Nixon’s psychopathic bigotry, saying that he acted as a restraining influence on his boss by playing along and making soothing remarks. This can now go straight into the lavatory pan, along with his other hysterical lies. Obsessed as he was with the Jews, Nixon never came close to saying that he’d be indifferent to a replay of Auschwitz. For this, Kissinger deserves sole recognition.It’s hard to know how to classify this observation in the taxonomy of obscenity. Should it be counted as tactical Holocaust pre-denial? That would be too mild. It’s actually a bit more like advance permission for another Holocaust.After initially resisting an apology (in a statement, he referred to “quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation”, as if casting doubt on what he had said) , Kissinger burst into print on Christmas eve in the Washington Post with a grudging apology accompanied by an exhortation to view the comments in historical context: For someone who lost in the Holocaust many members of my immediate family and a large proportion of those with whom I grew up, it is hurtful to see an out-of-context remark being taken so contrary to its intentions and to my convictions, which were profoundly shaped by these events.

The Kissinger “Gas Chambers” Debacle – A Post Mortem

Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Special to the Jewish Week

‘Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except, of course, Henry Kissinger’s publicists and strategists who decided that the slowest news day of the year was the perfect time for him to apologize, sort of, for telling Richard Nixon in 1973 that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”They may have finally realized – an apt epiphany given the season – that by not issuing such an admission of regret earlier, Kissinger had violated his own maxim that “whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” They probably also hoped that no one would pay attention over a holiday weekend and that what had become the most embarrassing contretemps (that’s French for public relations train wreck) in the former Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s illustrious career would fade into oblivion. Not so fast.For almost two weeks since the now infamous Oval Office remarks first appeared in the New York Times, Kissinger had refused to acknowledge that he had said anything inappropriate. He at first tried to get out from under his predicament with a disingenuous statement that “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time.” Without expressing any contrition whatsoever for what even some of his Jewish defenders deemed to be a “disturbing and even callous insensitivity toward the fate of Soviet Jews,” Kissinger’s statement contended that he and Nixon had in fact raised Jewish emigration from the U.S.S.R. “from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972.” He and the President feared, the statement continued, that efforts to make “Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue” through Congressional legislation – to wit, what became the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment – “would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed.”Unfortunately for Kissinger, he seems to have gotten his facts wrong. As Richard Schifter, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights in the Reagan administration, pointed out in the Forward, “Kissinger’s analysis is not reflected in the actual emigration data. He was close on the 1970 emigration figure, which was 1,027. His quiet diplomacy during detente did increase that number to an annual average of 20,516 from 1971 to 1974. But after Jackson-Vanik’s passage in 1974, the average for 1975 to 1978 dropped only slightly to 18,271 annually. Then, in 1979, the number of emigrants jumped to 51,320, much more than anything achieved under the Nixon-Kissinger policy.” According to Schifter, it was only after the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing “serious deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations” that Soviet Jewish emigration figures “dropped sharply, reaching a low of 876 in 1984.”