Category Archive: Times of Israel

Lost music of Holocaust victims returns to Dutch camp where it was once heard

A unique project spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom is breathing life into musical works written during WWII and almost lost forever

WESTERBORK, Netherlands (JTA) — On a foggy Sunday, cheerful cabaret music pierces the silence that hangs over this former concentration camp, one of the largest facilities of its kind in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

Blasting from the recorder of an Israeli visitor last month, the music draws disapproving looks and remarks from several locals touring the grounds in respectful silence. They find the sound of music inappropriate at a place whose name in the Netherlands is synonymous with wholesale murder.

But to the visitor and his five Jewish companions, Westerbork is perhaps the most appropriate place in the world to play these tunes. After all, the upbeat music was composed and performed here by inmates of the camp before the Nazis shipped them to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Those inmates include Max Ehrlich, a celebrated German comedian in the 1930s who settled in Holland and was sent to Westerbork after Germany invaded in 1940.

On March 25, his nephew Alan Ehrlich, an amateur historian of the Holocaust, led a tour of the camp for an international delegation that also included a musicologist and three journalists.

The visit is part of a unique project spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom that is breathing life into musical works that were written during the Holocaust and almost lost forever — and in the case of Max Ehrlich’s work, reconstructing compositions based on texts he smuggled out of the camp.

“Notes of Hope” features performances in Israel by the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra together with young musicians from Israel’s south. Culminating around Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day this month, the project offers another way to teach about the Holocaust as the number of eyewitnesses dwindles, said Samuel Hayek, chairman of JNF-UK.

Samuel Hayek, in jacket, meeting young musicians in Ashdod, Israel, January 2018. (Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-United Kingdom/via JTA)

“Nothing symbolizes the Jewish people’s revival better than Israeli musicians performing Holocaust victims’ works ahead of Israel’s 70th Independence Day,” Hayek said.

But to Alan Ehrlich, the reconstruction of his uncle’s works 75 years after their creation carries more than symbolic significance, he says during the visit to Westerbork, where he listens to those compositions playing from the recorder.

“Above all, it’s a historic document that tells of the great determination to survive by prisoners who would do anything, whatever it took, to stay alive,” he says.

In the case of Max Ehrlich, trying to survive meant producing with the Westerbork theater group of approximately 20 prisoners the most entertaining, wittiest and glitziest productions possible.

At the former Nazi transit camp Westerbork in the Netherlands, the Holocaust-era camp commander’s house has been preserved within a glass enclosure, January 2018 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Ehrlich ultimately was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. But before that, his life and that of his crew depended on their stagecraft. The camp’s Nazi commander, Albert Konrad Gemmeker, was “stagestruck,” as Alan Ehrlich describes it. Serving as a warden in a prison in a remote corner of the Netherlands, he was probably starving for the music and entertainment to which he was accustomed in Germany.

Like Max Ehrlich, other German Jewish artists fled Nazi Germany for Holland, including his fellow composer Willy Rosen. When Germany invaded, “Gemmeker suddenly found himself running a camp that had star inmates, a Hollywood cast at his disposal,” says Alan Ehrlich, a New York native who lives with his wife and two children in Switzerland.

For months, Gemmeker kept the names of his theater group off the weekly transport lists of people who were to be murdered in Auschwitz, Sobibor and other extermination camps in the east.

At the height of the Westerbork Theater Group, they had a full production crew, lighting technicians and all,” Ehrlich says. “The lives of the people in that crew depended on their ability to put on a good show.”

Gemmeker would invite his buddies from other SS units to show off his Jewish theater, according to research by Ehrlich and Katja Zaich, who wrote her doctoral thesis, titled “I Urgently Request a Happy Ending,” about German Jewish theater productions by exiles in the Netherlands. The Nazi spectators would occupy the two front rows of a theater that was constructed especially for cultural events at Westerbork.

But Max Ehrlich, an eternal optimist who knew he wanted to be a performing artist from a very young age, nevertheless recognized that Gemmeker would grow tired of the distraction he and his crew provided.

“He sensed, he was aware of a big unrest among the people in Westerbork,” Ehrlich says. “People were shipped every week on trains east never to be heard of again.”

Aware that memories of the performances would be erased along with their creators and performers, Max Ehrlich approached a non-inmate who paid a rare visit by an outsider to the camp. He asked the visitor — a relative of a prisoner whom Ehrlich knew — to smuggle out some lyrics, notes and scripts. Decades later, the works were found in a Dutch attic and were given to Alan Ehrlich, who donated them to a Dutch museum.

“I was deeply moved. I had works my uncle wrote in his last days before he was sent to his death,” Ehrlich says.

His father, Max’s brother, was a cinema owner who immigrated to the United States when Max Ehrlich went to Holland. Ehrlich says that his father’s greatest regret in life was not being able to arrange a visa for Max.

“I wanted to at least bring Max Ehrlich’s last works to light as a tribute to my father, who died in 2008,” Ehrlich says.

But the discovered documents contained no musical score or any other indication of a melody. Ehrlich, Zaich and Francesco Lotoro, a Jewish musicologist from Italy who specializes in works written during the Holocaust, went about reconstructing the music. They recorded Westerbork survivors who either saw the performances or participated in their production. They struck gold with Louis de Wijze, a survivor who delivered an accurate rendition of several numbers and even funded a studio recording of the tunes.

One is titled “Tatata,” a jaunty song in German composed by Max Ehrlich and Rosen. It describes an experience of a camp resident whose life is punctuated by the “sound of gramophone and saxophone.” Another, “You Already Want Someone Else,” is a jilted spouse’s lament. Given the circumstances in which it was written, it may well have referred to the life that the inmates were forced to leave behind.

Max Ehrlich’s songs are only a part of the repertoire of Holocaust-era works that the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra will perform on April 15, three days after this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah. Many of the works were reconstructed by Latoro and will be performed for the first time since the genocide.

To some observers today, the creation of art under the threat of annihilation is a triumph of humanism over barbarity. But to others, it’s the chilling result of behavior that borders on collaboration.

Etty Hillesum, a lawyer who wrote a diary during her imprisonment in Westerbork before her murder at Auschwitz, referred to the theater group in the diary as “buffoons” fulfilling a macabre mission for the Germans. She wrote that the performances were designed to inject a false sense of normalcy into the lives of people they sought to subdue in order to facilitate their murder.

Ehrlich is not quick to dismiss this allegation.

“Was it collaboration on the part of the Jews or was it resistance? It was something that, in the very beginning, troubled me a lot, too,” he says. “What is the morality of them having participated in these theater presentations?”

It’s a question he has raised in interviews with dozens of survivors, especially with those who participated in the Westerbork theater group.

The most pungent answer came from Louis de Wijze, the man who reconstructed Max Ehrlich’s tunes and survived Westerbork largely thanks to his superb skills at soccer.

To him, the morality debate is a moot point.

“You just do anything to survive,” he told Alan Ehrlich. “Under those circumstances, surviving is your only mission in life. Everything else is a side note.”


Exhibit on soccer during the Holocaust on show at Buenos Aires stadium

River Plate hosts ‘It Wasn’t a Game’ — a display documenting the story of soccer during the Nazi era

The exhibition at River Plate’s museum includes six illustrated soccer balls. This one was by Gustavo Nemirovsky. (Tabare da Ponte/Courtesy of ‘No Fue un Juego’ via JTA)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina  — One of Argentina’s most popular soccer clubs is hosting an exhibition of harrowing stories about the sport from the Holocaust era.

“It Wasn’t a Game” (or “No Fue un Juego”) opened last week at the River Plate museum in the team’s stadium building complex here, and will remain on view through May 15, a month before the start of the World Cup, soccer’s premier international tournament. The curators have split the exhibit into 11 parts — one for each player on the field at one time for each team.

In an exhibit produced by the Buenos Aires Shoah Museum, panels tell the stories of teams and individuals throughout the museum, which receives some 25,000 visitors each month.

One is about Emerico Hirschl, a Hungarian Jewish coach who led River Plate to multiple national and international championships in the 1930s. Hirschl also was instrumental in helping Jews who did not have visas gain asylum in Buenos Aires at the time, despite the prohibitions of the Argentine government. Using his popularity, the coach convinced guards to allow people to enter the city’s ports.

A soccer ball illustrated by Jorge Meijide. (Tabare da Ponte/Courtesy of “No Fue un Juego” via JTA)

His daughter, Gabriela Hirschl, told JTA at the exhibit’s inauguration that one of the Jews he saved later became his girlfriend, then his wife — and eventually Gabriela’s mother.

There are also the stories of European teams that suffered under the Nazis and were forced to rebuild after the war, such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in Germany, Ajax in Holland and Austria Wien in Vienna. Some notable examples: Bayern Munich’s president, Kurt Landauer, and coach, Richard Kohn, were forced to resign because they were Jewish. And an Ajax player, Eddy Hammel, helped the club win multiple championships before he was deported to Auschwitz in 1943.

The exhibit also looks at teams on the other side: Schalke 04, for instance, was taken under Hitler’s wing and coasted to several German championships in the 1930s.

One panel illustrates how the Nazis set up a soccer league at Theresienstadt to fool the Red Cross into believing life was normal at the concentration camp. The Nazis scheduled matches, assembled crowds and took photos, all for propaganda purposes.

A panel showing Otto Nerz, Germany’s national soccer team coach from 1926 to 1932, saying ‘In the end, there will be a Europe free of Jews with a sport free of Jews.’ (Tabare da Ponte/Courtesy of ‘No Fue un Juego’ via JTA)

There are also tragic stories of many players, such as Julius Hirsch, the first Jew on the German national team. He also fought for Germany in World War I, but later died in Auschwitz. Matthias Sindelar was a non-Jew on the Austrian national team, but he refused to play for Germany after it annexed Austrian territory and forced its players to suit up for the German national team in 1938. Six months later Sindelar was found dead in his apartment. Antony Liko, who played for the Wisla Krakow club, joined and fought with the Polish resistance, but was captured and later killed in Auschwitz.

The exhibit is the brainchild of the Jewish Argentine sports writer Leonardo Albajari, who has been interested in the Holocaust since he read “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a 13-year-old. Researchers Gustavo Asmus, Guillermo Ibarra, and German Roitbarg assisted in the effort.

“We want to spread to soccer fans a history rarely told in Argentina and expand knowledge about events that took place during Nazism and its direct consequences that led to the Shoah,” Albajari told JTA.

River Plate President Rodolfo D’Onofrio and the president of the Buenos Aires Shoah Museum, Marcelo Mindlin, inaugurated the exhibition. Part of the exhibit will be featured at the museum when its renovated facilities open next year.

The World Cup, a quadrennial event, is being hosted this year by Russia.


Polish ex-president: Holocaust Law a ‘legislative failure, political mistake’

Bronislaw Komorowski says defending Warsaw in wake of controversial legislation ‘has become impossible’

Former Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski on Sunday attacked his country’s new and highly controversial Holocaust Law as a “legislative failure” and a “political mistake.”

The law, which criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or people for Nazi atrocities committed during World War II, was declared partly unconstitutional last month by the Polish attorney general’s office.

It has caused a rift with Israel and drawn criticism from the United States and Ukraine.

Komorowski told Israel’s Channel 10 News on Sunday night that the law was “not only a legislative failure but a political mistake. It’s contrary to our aims and defending Poland’s good name has become impossible. On the contrary, the law has prompted a lot of criticism of Poland.”

Komorowski — who lost to nationalist Andrzej Duda in Poland’s 2015 presidential elections — was interviewed for a Channel 10 News feature about the 1941 massacre of Jews at the hands of Poles in the Polish village of Jedwabne, during which at least 340 Polish Jews were locked in a barn that was set on fire.

The massacre is still an open sore for the Poles, particularly given attempts by today’s nationalist leadership to portray the population as victims of the Nazis, not perpetrators.

On July 11, 2011, Komorowski, then still president, asked for forgiveness at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Jedwabne atrocity.

Many believe this condemned his election hopes.

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of student protests that were exploited by the communists to purge Jews from Poland, at the Warsaw University in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, March 8, 2018 (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

During a televised campaign head-to-head debate between Komorowski and Duda in 2015, the latter started by asking how Poland’s good name could be protected after Komorowski had apologized for Jedwabne and “distorted the historical truth through lying about a subject that is so sensitive for us.”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Komorowski told Channel 10 News, adding that this also applied to the new Holocaust Law.


Muslim rescuer of Jews takes seat in back at slain Holocaust survivor’s vigil

After ceremony, dozens huddle around Lassana Bathily, thanking the 27-year-old who hid a dozen people from the jihadist who killed four at a kosher store in 2015

Lassana Bathily praying with members of the Jewish community at the Tournelles Synagogue in Paris, March 28, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA)

PARIS (JTA) – French Jews mourning a Holocaust survivor murdered in her Paris apartment welcomed the presence of France’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, at a vigil in her memory.

“We appreciate authorities’ swift action for justice and continued support,” Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire Jewish group, said Wednesday during a vigil at the Tournelles Synagogue in Paris in memory of Mireille Knoll.

Prosecutors said she was murdered, partly because she was Jewish, by a Muslim neighbor and an accomplice. Knoll’s son Daniel eulogized his mother before an audience of hundreds at the vigil.

Earlier that day, President Emmanuel Macron attended Knoll’s funeral, where he embraced one of her children and vowed to fight anti-Semitism.

But for many Jews at the vigil, which followed a memorial march through Paris, Collomb’s presence seemed secondary in importance to that of a young African Muslim man who unceremoniously entered the synagogue and sat in the back row. Within minutes, all eyes were on the man — Lassana Bathily, a 27-year-old from Mali whom many consider a hero because he hid a dozen people from the jihadist who killed four Jews at a kosher store in 2015.

After the vigil, dozens of people huddled around Bathily — some to hug him, others only to shake his hand and several to pose for a selfie with him.

Some women crossed over from their section of the synagogue to greet Bathily and thank him for coming, addressing him in the familiar “tu” pronoun rather than the “vous” that they would normally use with strangers.

Several people said his presence offers hope amid growing despair over the proliferation of anti-Semitic violence and the apparent inability by authorities to stop it.

“The minister is here and Mayor Anne Hidalgo is also here, and that’s important because their commitment to the values of the French Republic is imperative for the survival of Jewish life here,” David Mechal, a Jewish man from the suburb of Sarcelles, told JTA. “But real change is not up to them. It’s up to people like Lassana, so it’s moving to see him with us here, standing with us in solidarity in our hour of need.”

For Bathily, who has consistently rejected assertions that he was a hero, attending the vigil was “an act of solidarity,” but also a message, he told JTA.

“I want to tell the Jews of France, you are not isolated. You are not abandoned. This is your country,” said Bathily, who himself became a French citizen by power of an executive decree weeks after the bloodbath at the HyperCacher store in recognition of his role in saving people from the perpetrator. “Do not leave France, stay here,” he added. “There are many like me who support you.”

Bathily was among many non-Jews who showed up for commemoration events Wednesday in memory of Knoll, whose killing shocked many Frenchmen because of its brutality – she was stabbed 11 times before her body was torched – but also because she survived the 1942 roundup of Jews by French police working for the Nazis.

Some non-Jews at the march, which had at least 10,000 participants, were holding signs reading “don’t touch my buddy.” Others, like Alain Ndigal, a 48-year-old mechanic of African descent, wore Israeli flags.

“I am here to support French Jews, sure, but I’m also here to support myself and other Frenchmen,” said Ndigal, a devout Christian. “We know by now that what begins with the Jews never ends with them. We are also in the crosshairs.”

Notwithstanding, French Jews appeared to have been the overwhelming majority at the march, despite calls by organizers of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities for non-Jews to attend.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right politician who CRIF President Francis Kalifat said was not welcome at the rally, showed up anyway. Dozens of her supporters shouted “Marine is with us” as others shouted “N for Nazi,” referencing the first letter of her National Front party. French Jews believe it is a hotbed of anti-Semitism, though she denies the assertion.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far-left politician whom CRIF said engages in anti-Semitic rhetoric, also showed up despite being asked not to.

Attendance by non-Jews at commemorative events for victims of anti-Semitism is a major issue to many French Jews, who feel their society is more likely to focus on Islamist violence when it is directed at non-Jews.

“It’s an impressive mobilization, for sure,” Vincent Cohen told JTA at the march. “But I look around and I see around me the same people who came to the HyperCacher vigil, the same people who showed up at the march for Sarah Hamili.”

Halimi wan an elderly Jewish woman who, according to prosecutors, was killed by her Muslim neighbor in Paris last year.

“I see mostly graying Jews. This place looks like a CRIF conference and it slightly depresses me,” said Cohen.

Daniel Knoll touched on this point in a highly emotional eulogy he delivered at the synagogue for his mother.

“I look around and I want to see everyone, not only Jews, but people of all colors, all faiths, at these events,” he said.

Referencing how hatred of Israel sometimes morphs into hatred of Jews in France, he asked: “But why hate Israel in the first place? It’s a good place, based on justice. Why hate Israelis? My daughters are Israelis. They are wonderful, compassionate women.”

Visibly grief-stricken, Daniel Knoll told the crowd that “he has no answers for those questions,” or the question with which he concluded his speech: “How do I go on now, without a mother, with this terrible pain?”


Poland is trying to ‘gag’ history, says Holocaust historian who triggered debate

Professor Jan Gross, who angered many Poles by studying Polish violence against Jews, warns legislation will prevent young people from exploring topic

In this photo taken March 13, 2018, Jan Gross, a Holocaust scholar who has been a catalyst for historical debates about Polish behavior during the Holocaust, speaks to The Associated Press in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — As the most hated intellectual in Poland, Jan Gross contends with online abuse, government hostility and threats of prosecution.

So when the retired Princeton professor visits his homeland, he takes a small precaution — wearing a cap over his silver hair in public, to make himself a little less conspicuous.

Gross has triggered controversy for nearly two decades with works that explore Polish violence against Jews during and after the Holocaust. That does not make him popular in today’s Poland, where the nationalist government considers there has been an exaggerated focus on the country’s World War II sins and has embarked on a wide-ranging effort to keeps Polish heroism and suffering in center place.

The effort has included a new law imposing up to three years of prison on anyone who falsely accuses Poland of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust crimes.

Sometimes colloquially dubbed “Lex Gross” (Latin for the “Gross Law”) because it was inspired by anger against Gross, it has upset Israel and the United States, which consider it a threat to freedom of speech and academic inquiry.

While the government insists the law will not target anyone who tells the truth, the efforts to defend it to a skeptical world have been clumsy and accompanied by remarks that have seemed insensitive to the Jewish tragedy, bringing more attention to the very accounts authorities wanted to silence.

In a recent interview, Gross said the law has had the salutary effect of inspiring more discussions about Poland’s past, though he said education in schools is a much better way to achieve that goal. Despite calls for him to be prosecuted under the law, he believes its real aim is to “gag” the way history is written far more broadly.

“I am going to write what I am writing. But young people will think twice before they specialize in that field, and teachers and others will feel very constrained about speaking about and addressing issues of complicity and how the Holocaust played out in Poland,” Gross said.

Gross was born in Warsaw in 1947 as the destroyed city was rising from the rubble. His mother hailed from Christian gentry and had been active in the anti-German resistance, helping a Jewish man — Gross’s future father — to survive in hiding.

As a student at Warsaw University, Gross was active in a protest movement fighting censorship by the communist dictatorship in 1968. The regime crushed the student protesters and orchestrated an anti-Semitic campaign that forced thousands with Jewish heritage to flee. He was in Warsaw earlier this month for events marking the 50th anniversary of the 1968 persecution, and spoke to The Associated Press from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where an exhibition highlights the role of a young Janek Gross and his future wife and co-researcher, Irena Grudzinska, in those dramatic days.

Gross’s family, not feeling a sense of Jewishness or identification with Israel, settled in the United States. He got a doctorate in sociology from Yale and focused his early research on the persecution of Polish society under the German and Soviet occupations, getting a Polish Order of Merit for service to the nation.

Gross first challenged his homeland to confront its complicity in killing Jews with the Polish publication in 2000 of “Neighbors,” a slim but explosive book about a massacre in the town of Jedwabne in 1941. Revelations that Poles — not Germans — clubbed Jews to death, decapitated and drowned them and then burned alive hundreds in a barn, were deeply shocking.

One of several photographs taken during the deportation of Oswiecim’s Jews to death camps and ghettos in the region during the Nazi occupation of Poland. (Auschwitz Jewish Center)

Poland was Hitler’s first victim, invaded from two sides, by Germany and the Soviet Union, forced to become the Holocaust’s main slaughterhouse, then betrayed by its Western Allies at the hour of victory, abandoned into Communist dictatorship. Just as it was finally a democracy, its people suddenly saw the nation cast as a villain.

While most Poles accept that some individuals behaved terribly, these culprits are widely seen as marginal criminals and blackmailers who do not represent the larger Polish response to the slaughter of the Jews.

Those who hate him most cast Gross as a Jew slandering the nation, and want him imprisoned. To Gross’s supporters, though, he is a moral voice of conscience.

He tells the story of a husband and wife who run a tiny, cramped kiosk where he buys newspapers during his regular visits to Poland from his home in Berlin. Recently they had one of his books waiting for him to sign, and they offered him shelter should he ever find himself in trouble.

“They tell me ‘be careful, but if you need to, you can come to our kiosk and we will hide you,’” Gross said.

There is also a middle ground of those who credit Gross with raising difficult questions but say he sometimes goes too far, for instance with a 2015 claim that Poles killed more Jews during the war than they killed Germans, something disputed due to a lack of firm statistics. Prosecutors have since been investigating whether he committed the crime of libeling Poland.

Critics also fault him for giving short shrift to the Poles risked their own lives to save Jews, and for ignoring actions by Jews that might partly explain hostility toward them, for instance the welcome and collaboration by some Jews in eastern Poland under the Soviet occupation.

Dariusz Stola, the POLIN museum director, says he disagrees with Gross on a number of important questions, but still considers him the “leading figure for Poland coming to terms with the Holocaust — a past which many European nations need to face.”

When President Andrzej Duda signed the Holocaust speech law in February, the Israeli and American reactions were so sharp that he also sent it to the constitutional court for review, and authorities now suggest it might be struck down in part.

“These guys will wiggle their way out now,” predicted Gross.

He voiced pessimism, however, about the larger memory struggle under nationalist rulers.

“You talk about the Holocaust and the second sentence you will hear will be ‘Poles were helping Jews,’ or ‘Poles have so many trees at Yad Vashem.’ There is no conversation about the plight of Polish Jews,” Gross said. “Has that ever been in the history of any country that 10 percent of its citizens have been murdered in such an extraordinarily brutal way and this is not part of the country’s history?”


Post-Holocaust Haggadahs reflect altered versions of slavery and freedom

An exhibit at Israel’s National Library highlights themes of nontraditional Passover Seders in post-war Europe and pre-state Palestine

From the “Survivors’ Haggadah” written for the 1947 Survivors’ Seder in Munich, Germany (Courtesy National Library of Israel)

The themes of slavery and freedom in the Passover Haggadah are familiar but largely distant for many readers.

A new exhibit at the National Library of Israel offers a 20th century take on the story of exodus from Egypt, with a collection of Haggadahs written by Holocaust survivors as well as Jewish soldiers who served in the US Army, the Jewish Brigade of the British Army and the pre-state paramilitary force the Haganah during the years following World War II and at the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

“It’s a very familiar genre but less known now,” said Dr. Hezi Amiur, curator of the Israel Collection at the National Library. “It’s all about freedom and independence, part of the big story we’re telling. It creates a bridge between Passover, a very traditional holiday, and the new Israeli traditions of Yom Ha’atzmaut. They’re celebrated differently but based on the traditional message that’s universal, not just Jewish, of freedom and anti-slavery. We all learned that from the exodus from Egypt.”

The exhibit, “Next Year May We Be Free, Soldiers and Survivors Write the Passover Haggadah, 1940-1948,” is open until May 31, spanning Passover as well as Israel’s 70th celebrations, Holocaust Memorial Day and Israeli Memorial Day.

The writing of new, non-traditional Haggadahs began in the 1920s and continued through the 1960s, said Amiud. The National Library has more than 10,000 Haggadahs in its collection, of which more than 2,000 date from the 1920s until today.

Following WWII, many survivors and soldiers wrote their own versions of the Haggadah for the Seders, although conditions were difficult and they didn’t have time or the materials to make copies of their texts.

“There were only a few copies left,” said Amiur, “so we chose those that best told the story.”

In those post-war years, many of the Holocaust survivors still in Europe were trying to get to Israel. In parallel, the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in Israel was about to leave Palestine, and members of the Haganah and Jewish US army soldiers who were stationed around Europe and Cyprus were sitting down to Seders with Holocaust survivors.

The exhibit ends with a selection of Haggadah booklets from 1948, wrapping up the period of time between the end of the Holocaust and the month prior to the May 1948 declaration of the State of Israel.

One of the selections is a Haggadah written by a unit of soldiers in the Haganah stationed in the Hula Valley in the weeks before Passover, when the War of Independence had entered a difficult stage. As the pre-state entity was preparing for the exit of the British Army and the declaration of the establishment of the state that would come in May, Jewish soldiers were being killed in battle and this Haggadah tells that story.

“They had just gone through a battle in which 22 soldiers were killed, and it tells the feeling of soldiers who felt that they were willingly sacrificing themsevles,” said Amiud. “They were waiting for the establishment of the state, and to bring Holocaust survivors to the country, and they speak about their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the creation of the state. It’s similar messages of redemption.”

Another Haggadah exhibited was created in 1946 in Munich, Germany. It was the first Passover after the end of the Holocaust, and Europe was full of Jewish refugees, many of them in displaced persons camps in Munich. A Seder was being planned for young survivors who belonged to a Zionist youth movement, with a Haggadah written for them by Yosef Sheinson, a Hebrew teacher and survivor of the Kovno Ghetto.

The Haggadah was rife with messages about the land of Israel, highlighting the similarities between the exodus from Egypt and their hopeful exit from Europe to pre-state Palestine. The opening page of the Haggadah, which starts with “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt,” was baldly rewritten as “We were slaves to Hitler in Germany.”

“They likened maror, the bitter herb, to exile and to the bitterness of having not built the Jewish state in time for the escape from Europe,” said Amiud.

The Haggadah was illustrated with woodcuts made by artist Miklos Adler, a survivor from Debrecen in Hungary, who took the traditional concepts of Egypt, slavery and exodus and recreated them in the images of the concentration camps and Nazi Germany.

The last illustration in the Haggadah is of “Lech Lecha,” the biblical command to the patriarch Abraham to take his belongings and go to the land of Canaan, but reimagined as a survivor turning his back on the camps, the ashes and on Europe.

Rabbi Klausner, an army chaplain of the US Third Army, known as the Survivors’ Rabbi, saw the Haggadah and decided to reprint it for a Survivors’ Seder he was making for hundreds of soldiers and survivors in Munich. He added an introduction in English to the text that was written in Yiddish and Hebrew.

“They had just lived through their own slavery,” said Amiud. “It had happened to them.”

The exhibit, at the National Library in Jerusalem, is open until May 31. Entry is free.



France’s far-right and far-left to join march honoring slain Holocaust survivor

But Jewish group says National Front and France Unbowed unwelcome at Paris event marking alleged anti-Semitic killing of Mireille Knoll, 85

This photo, provided by Daniel Knoll on Tuesday March 27, 2018, shows the late Mireille Knoll, center, with her son Daniel and grand daughter Jessica. (Daniel Knoll via AP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — Mourners were to gather in Paris on Wednesday for a silent march to honor an 85-year-old Jewish woman killed in what police are treating as an anti-Semitic attack, as tensions grew over the expected participation of far-right and far-left leaders against the organizers’ wishes.

Mireille Knoll, who escaped a notorious roundup and deportation of Jews from Paris during World War II, was found dead in her bed in her small apartment in eastern Paris on Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.

Police arrested a neighbor and another suspect who have been charged in the latest of several attacks that have rattled France’s Jewish community.

Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll’s killers stabbed her, robbed her and set her body on fire because she was a Jew.

“The terrible thing is that one of the attackers told the other: ‘She’s a Jew, she must have money,’” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told parliament on Tuesday.

Several leading politicians including Collomb and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have said they will attend the march from 16.30 GMT (7:30 p.m. Israel time), making their way from Place de la Nation to Knoll’s home.

Parliamentary proceedings will also be suspended to allow politicians to join the march.

“We are going to make a strong display against anti-Semitism,” Collomb told France Inter radio Wednesday.

“My generation thought this was finished, that after the shock of the Holocaust for everyone, never again would there be systematic attacks.”

The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations said Tuesday that neither the far-right National Front, nor far-left France Unbowed where some have criticized Israeli policies, were welcome at the event.

“I made it very clear, I explained that the high number of anti-Semites on both the extreme left and the extreme right made these parties unacceptable,” CRIF president Francis Kalifat told RTL radio.

But National Front leader Marine Le Pen announced she would attend the march along with other party officials, citing a call by Knoll’s son Daniel for “everyone, without exception” to attend.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the leftwing France Unbowed party, also plans to participate, party sources told AFP.

Mireille Knoll’s family will also be received by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday.

The death of the frail octogenarian — she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, one of her sons said — has shocked France’s Jewish community. It comes a year after an Orthuodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out of the window of her Paris apartment by a neighbor shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (God is greatest).

A judge confirmed just last month that the April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi was motivated by anti-Semitism, a delay that drew the ire of several Jewish groups.

Halimi’s murder reignited the debate over anti-Semitism in working-class districts in France, where Jews have been targeted in several deadly jihadist attacks in recent years.

France’s half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods.

In 2012, an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four people in a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.


Poland censors Israeli mayor who sought to cite Polish Holocaust crimes at event

In Holocaust law dispute, Kiryat Bialik mayor, leading group of students to Poland, refuses to remove reference to Poles who handed Jews to Nazis; authorities cancel joint ceremony

A bitter dispute between Jerusalem and Warsaw over a controversial Holocaust law reached new heights on Monday, as an Israeli mayor was forced to cancel a speech he was planning to deliver to Israeli high school students on a trip to Poland after local authorities censored his prepared remarks.
Kiryat Bialik Mayor Eli Dukorsky, who is heading the Israeli delegation and who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, was meant to deliver his speech on Monday along with the mayor of Radomsko, Kiryat Bialik’s Polish twin city.
However, before Dukorsky could deliver his address, the Radomsko municipality asked to go over his speech in light of a new law criminalizing the mention of complicity by the Polish state or nation in the Holocaust.

After authorities reviewed the planned speech, they requested that Dukorsky either omit parts of it that dealt with Poles who turned Jews in to the Nazi occupiers, or blame Ukrainians instead.

The Israeli mayor then sought the advice of the Foreign Ministry, which recommended that he not deliver a censored version of his speech, Hadashot TV news reported.

“We reject any attempt at censorship,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. “We support the mayor’s right to make his speech as planned and not omit any word, not even a single letter.”

The joint ceremony was then canceled, Hadashot news reported.

Dukorsky then decided to hold an alternative ceremony for the Israeli students and read out his full speech. It was not immediately clear if Polish authorities monitored his remarks..

The file picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp in Poland. (AP Photo)

Thousands of Israeli students visit Poland each year to learn about the Holocaust, culminating in the March of the Living in April. The incident appeared to be the strongest yet indication that the new law will cast a shadow over official commemorations.

As currently written, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish. Dukorsky’s speech did not appear to accuse the Polish state or nation of Holocaust crimes, nor refer to Polish death camps.

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

During his speech, the mayor told the students about the Polish demand from him, noting that besides talking about Polish citizens’ complicity in actions by the Nazis, he also mentioned the many Poles who saved Jews during World War II.

“They asked me to omit the number of Jews murdered by Poles during the war, about 200,000 Jews, and I said I am willing to delete the number,” Dukorsky said.

“But I was requested to make further changes to which I didn’t agree,” he continued, saying he was asked to substitute the word “Poles” with “Ukrainians” when speaking about Poles’ involvement in the Holocaust, and “German Nazis” instead of “Nazis.”

“Israel is not willing to compromise over historical facts,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said, according to Israel’s Channel 10 news. “Mentioning painful events from the past doesn’t mean blaming the entire Polish people. It is important to continue the open and honest discussions between both sides.”

Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

But last week, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.

One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.