Category Archive: Third Generation

Auschwitz commandant grandson combats Europe’s neo-Nazis

Rainer Hoess, who sports a Star of David around his neck, is campaigning against right-wing extremism ahead of EU elections

Rainer Hoess was 12 years old when he learned he was the grandson of a man who oversaw the murder of a million people as commandant of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Growing up in post-war Germany, Hoess failed to understand why his school gardener — a Holocaust survivor — was consistently harsh towards to him, until a teacher revealed the terrible truth.

“I knew nothing about Auschwitz, I knew nothing about my family, I only knew that my grandfather was in the war like thousands of other grandfathers were,” Hoess told AFP.

Rudolf Hoess was the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in occupied Poland that became an enduring symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews.

“For a 12-year-old boy it’s huge information,” his grandson said.

Now aged 48, Hoess has turned his family burden into the driving force of a full-time commitment to fighting right-wing extremism.

He was in Sweden recently to promote a campaign against the rise of neo-Nazi movements across Europe, launched Wednesday ahead of the upcoming European elections.

“Right-wing extremists are not stupid,” he said. “They are growing, gaining ground, very slowly but very effectively.”

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Holocaust is a ‘part of Hungarian history,’ lawmaker says

A lawmaker of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party has called the Holocaust “part of Hungarian history.” Speaking during ceremonies in Budapest marking the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day Zoltán Pokorni said: “Those who were killed were Hungarians and those who killed were also Hungarians.” Exhibition openings, conferences, and theater performances were held throughout the country in memory of the victims of the Shoah. Hungary marks its Holocaust Remembrance Day each year on April 16, the day in 1944 that Jews began to be forced into ghettos in Hungary. Within three months over 500,000 Jews were deported to extermination camps, including 440,000 Jews to Auschwitz, where every third victim was a Hungarian Jew. 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

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.


Grandpa’s Secret Shoah

Soon after my father passed away in 1995 at age 86, my mother presented me with his watch, enclosed in its red case adorned with gold letters. The 18-karat gold Patek Philippe was the only expensive thing my father ever bought for himself. We were very poor when I was young. We shared, with another family, a small, one-bedroom apartment in a poor Haifa neighborhood, living off rationed eggs and butter. By the time I reached the age of 13, however, our financial condition had improved. Although by nature modest and humble, my father surprised us by buying himself the gold watch. “After 120,” he would proudly tell me, “this watch will be yours.”
Gingerly opening the case in 1995, I was astounded to find in addition to the watch, hidden underneath, in the folds of the guarantee booklet: a minute, yellowing photograph of two beautiful young women. I did not recognize this photo or these young ladies. My mother was taken aback by this find but did not offer any explanations. I knew my father wanted me to find this photo. I could not fathom why.

As Holocaust Survivors Dwindle, a Gathering to Ensure Their Lessons Live On

Over the years hundreds of survivors of the Holocaust have visited New Jersey classrooms, assemblies, and ceremonies to share their stories. They were the faces and voices of history, and to kids across the state they bore witness to a darker — almost unimaginable — epoch.
As time passes, the visitors are fewer. There were an estimated 5,000 Holocaust survivors living in New Jersey in 2005, according to official count. There are barely 2,000 now, a diminishing circle of mostly old men and women who can speak firsthand about what happened at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and other concentration camps.
How to offset that inevitable winnowing was the focus of a gathering yesterday of more than 300 survivors and their families who met in a dining hall at Mercer County Community College to commemorate their own lives and reflect on how to keep those memories alive for generations ahead.

Daughter unravels mystery her mother left behind

Sidonia Perlstein survived the Holocaust to become a talented designer and seamstress. But when Perlstein died on Mother’s Day six years ago at the age of 93, she was still a mystery to the daughter she had raised alone in western Massachusetts.  “My real mother was someone I never truly knew,” said Hanna Perlstein Marcus.  But Sidonia’s death only made Marcus more determined to understand her mother and seek out the father about whom she would never speak.  Marcus recounts what she learned in her memoir, “Sidonia’s Thread: The Secrets of a Mother and Daughter Sewing a New Thread in America.”

Survivors’ grandchildren feeling an obligation to share Holocaust memories

Shira Sheps remembers walking through an exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan and stumbling upon her grandmother’s long-ago school reports alongside family photos and her great-grandparents’ wedding invitation.

Elan Steinberg Dies at 59; Led World Jewish Congress

Elan Steinberg, who brought what he called a new, “American style” assertiveness to the World Jewish Congress as its top executive, winning more than $1 billion from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims and challenging Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary general, over his Nazi past, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 59.
The cause was complications of lymphatic cancer, his wife, Sharon, said.
As its executive director from 1978 to 2004, Mr. Steinberg was a key strategist for the congress as it grew bolder under a younger generation of Jews. He helped organize the research, hearings, press leaks and lawsuit that led the Swiss banks to agree to pay $1.2 billion to Holocaust victims in the late 1990s.
He also ruffled feathers. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times that he applauded the congress’s “persistence,” but worried that the Swiss might begin to see Jews as “their enemy.” He said the congress’s crusade “fed into the stereotype that Jews have money, that it’s the most important thing to them.”
Even Simon Wiesenthal, the relentless hunter of Nazi war criminals, questioned the congress’s new aggressiveness when it threw itself into the Austrian presidential campaign in 1986 to try to defeat Mr. Waldheim, who was ultimately elected. Mr. Waldheim had hidden his membership in a Nazi military unit linked to atrocities.
Mr. Wiesenthal argued that Mr. Waldheim was “an opportunist” but not a war criminal. He worried that the congress, by inserting itself into Austria’s internal politics, was undoing years of patient work toward reconciling young Austrians and Jews.
Mr. Steinberg countered that electing Mr. Waldheim would stain all Austrians. “In the whole world it will be said that a former Nazi and a liar is the representative of Austria,” he said.
The tough stance was a departure for the congress, which was formed in 1936 in response to the rising Nazi threat in Europe and whose headquarters are now in New York. Mr. Steinberg himself used the word “strident” to describe his approach in taking the once-staid organization into quarrels, as it did in 1985 when President Ronald Reagan, alongside Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, visited a German cemetery in which Nazi SS soldiers were buried.
“For a long time,” Mr. Steinberg said, “the World Jewish Congress was meant to be the greatest secret of Jewish life, because the nature of diplomacy after the war was quiet diplomacy. This is a newer, American-style leadership — less timid, more forceful, unashamedly Jewish.”
Mr. Steinberg steered the congress in opposing the presence of a Carmelite convent at the site of the Auschwitz death camp and championing former slave laborers under the Nazis in their fight for compensation.
When Steven Spielberg was making the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” he wanted to shoot scenes inside a building that had been part of the Auschwitz camp, Mrs. Steinberg said. As she recounted the episode, Mr. Spielberg went to the congress and conferred with Mr. Steinberg, who told him, “You cannot film on the graves of Jews.” Mr. Spielberg instead built a replica of the building.
“Whenever Jews were in danger, or Jewish honor offended, he vigorously yet elegantly spoke up,” Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, said in a statement read at Mr. Steinberg’s funeral. “Whenever Jewish memory was attacked, he attacked the attacker.”
Elan Steinberg was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, on June 2, 1952, to Holocaust survivors. He grew up in the Brownsville and Borough Park sections of Brooklyn and was a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Brooklyn College. He received a master’s degree in political science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, then taught there.
He joined the congress in 1978 as its United Nations representative, and rose to executive director — first of the American section, then of the world body. Menachem Rosensaft, the congress’s general counsel, said Mr. Steinberg was instrumental in persuading the Vatican and Spain to recognize Israel.
Mr. Steinberg resigned in 2004 but remained a consultant to the congress’s president, Ronald S. Lauder. He was vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
In addition to his wife, the former Sharon Cohen, Mr. Steinberg, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by his children, Max, Harry and Lena Steinberg, and his brother, Alex.
Mr. Rosensaft told another story to illustrate his friend’s mix of grit and wit. Mr. Steinberg was negotiating one day with the French culture minister to recover paintings stolen from Jews during the Holocaust. The minister huffed that Mr. Steinberg knew nothing about art.
“You’re right,” Mr. Steinberg said. “I don’t know anything about art. I’m from Brooklyn. I know about stolen goods.”