Category Archive: Times of Israel

Holocaust survivor Roman Kent who negotiated billions in restitution, dies at 92

Auschwitz and Lodz Ghetto survivor who worked tirelessly to get compensation for Jewish victims of the Nazis, dies in New York

Roman Kent stands outside Auschwitz. (Courtesy of Jewish Foundation for the Righteous via JTA)

Roman Kent stands outside Auschwitz. (Courtesy of Jewish Foundation for the Righteous via JTA)

JTA — Roman Kent, a Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz survivor who would negotiate with the postwar German government for billions of dollars in compensation for Jewish Holocaust survivors, died Friday at his home in New York City. He was 92.

Kent, who immigrated to the United States in 1946, was a longtime board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, where he served variously as treasurer, co-chair of its negotiating committee and special adviser to its president.

In those roles, said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, Kent negotiated billions of dollars in pensions and compensation for Jewish survivors from the German government and championed survivor interests with insurance companies, German industry and Eastern European governments.

Just last year, Kent recorded a video as part of a campaign to demand that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg remove Holocaust denial content from his entire social media network.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=765596927521633

“Roman made himself available for every cause that we put in front of him, tirelessly giving of his time and energy,” said Gideon Taylor, the Claims Conference president, in a statement. “He will be remembered as an unwavering force of good will and an undeniable advocate for the global Jewish community.”

Kent also served as the chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants; as president of the International Auschwitz Committee; and also as president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which assists non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1929, Roman Kniker survived its ghetto and several camps including Merzbachtal, Dornau, Flossenburg and Auschwitz. His father died of malnutrition in the Lodz Ghetto and his mother was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Holocaust survivor Roman Kent speaks during the International Holocaust Survivors Night on December 4, 2018, in South Orange, New Jersey. (Don EMMERT / AFP)

In June 1946, the brothers immigrated to the United States as part of a government program to admit 5,000 orphans. Kent lived in Atlanta with foster parents and attended Emory University in that Georgia city, going on to start a successful international trade company.

In 1988, he joined the board of the Claims Conference, which had been tasked with securing the restitution that Germany has paid through direct assistance to survivors and for educational and memorial programs.

Diplomat Stuart Eizenstat, who worked with Kent as the Claims Conference’s special negotiator, said his co-chair on the negotiating committee “made it his personal mission to advocate for his fellow survivors to the very end, participating on negotiations calls as recently as last week. His strength and fortitude were unmatched, and his drive and determination to see justice served knew no bounds.”

In 2016, in an interview marking UNESCO’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event, Kent warned about the abuse of language to deny the past.

“I have noticed over the years that in relation to the Holocaust in the media, there is a tendency to sanitize the past,” he said. “People say that 6 million people were ‘lost’ or ‘perished.’ They were not lost. They were not misplaced. They were imprisoned, starved, tortured, murdered and burned. It is hard to hear but that is the truth that we must preserve to prevent the Holocaust happening again.”

Kent married Hannah Starkman, a Lodz native and fellow survivor, in 1957. Hannah Kent died in 2017. They are survived by their two children, Jeffrey and Susan, as well as three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Kiss frontman Simmons learns about Holocaust survivor mother’s ordeal

German newspaper presents Israel-born rock star with 100 pages of documents about his late mother’s experiences to mark 75th anniversary of her liberation

Gene Simmons of Kiss performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, March 4, 2020. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA via JTA)

Gene Simmons of Kiss performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, March 4, 2020. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA via JTA)

JTA — Kiss frontman Gene Simmons said his mother almost never spoke about her Holocaust ordeal, including time in Nazi camps.

A German newspaper has provided him with plenty more information.

Flora Klein, a native of Hungary, was 19 when American troops liberated the Mauthausen camp on May 5, 1945. She died at 93 in the United States.

In her statement to the former Restitution Office in Koblenz, Klein wrote: “In November 1944, I was brought to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. I lived there in block no. 21 and worked in the fields, gathering potatoes outside the camp. I wore old civilian clothes with a white oil (paint) cross painted on the back, in a camp surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by the SS.”

Klein was transferred to the Venusberg subcamp of the Flossenburg concentration camp in January 1945, and arrived at Mauthausen in March that year.

“She was strong,” Simmons told Bild in an interview published Sunday as he read the documents. “She fought all of this on her own.”

He also found his grandmother’s name among the documents. Ester Blau died in the Nazi gas chambers

His mother married a carpenter, Jechiel Weitz, in 1946 and a year later they immigrated to Israel. Simmons was born Chaim Weitz in Haifa in 1949. His parents later divorced and Simmons’ mother brought him to New York in 1958.

Simmons warned that people should not forget the about the Holocaust.

“It can happen again and again. That’s why you have to talk about everything,” he said. “When Jews are advised to no longer wear the kippah on the streets. At least this is being addressed. The same applies to the Muslims. As long as you talk about things, there is a chance. When you see cockroaches in the kitchen, you must point the light at them so you can see them clearly. And you must drive them out of the light.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/kiss-frontman-simmons-learns-about-holocaust-survivor-mothers-ordeal/

Israel’s first virus fatality named as 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even

Aryeh Even, Israel's first fatality in the coronavirus pandemic (Courtesy)

Aryeh Even, Israel’s first fatality in the coronavirus pandemic (Courtesy)

Israel’s first fatality in the coronavirus pandemic was on Saturday named as 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even.

In a statement, Even’s family said they regretted that they were unable to be by his side for his final moments.

Even immigrated to Israel alone from Hungary in 1949. He is survived by four children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center said late Friday that Even had been admitted in very serious condition with multiple preexisting conditions. Despite intensive treatment, including being resuscitated from heart failure, his state deteriorated rapidly and he died, the hospital said.

Medical staff seen after the arrival of a patient to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, over suspicions she may be infected with the Coronavirus on January 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Even was among several residents of the Nofim Tower senior home in Jerusalem who have contracted the virus.

The virus generally only shows mild symptoms in the young and healthy, but can cause serious respiratory issues and death in older adults and those with underlying conditions.

According to the Health Ministry’s latest figures released Saturday, there have been 883 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Israel, with 15 people in serious condition.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israels-first-virus-fatality-named-as-88-year-old-holocaust-survivor-aryeh-even/

Auschwitz closes to visitors over coronavirus fears

Memorial and camp to remain shut until at least March 25; March of the Living already postponed

The ruins of gas chambers and crematoria at the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau, January 28, 2020. (Yaakov Schwartz/ Times of Israel)

The ruins of gas chambers and crematoria at the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau, January 28, 2020. (Yaakov Schwartz/ Times of Israel)

The Auschwitz Memorial and the site of the former Nazi camp have been closed to visitors due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The memorial announced on Wednesday that it would shut down until March 25.

Last month, the memorial called on organizers of trips to the site to refrain from bringing visitors from countries that have been affected by the coronavirus. And earlier this week, the March of the Living announced that it had postponed this year’s event.

“After consulting with the relevant health bodies and officials, it is with a heavy heart that we are forced to announce the postponement of this year’s March of the Living in Poland,” March of the Living World Chair, Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, said in a statement.

People participating in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, on May 2, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90

“Our primary concern is the health of the many participants and the Holocaust survivors who would be joining them. Given that this is an international event involving 110 delegations from around the world, we have a responsibility to take precautionary measures in accordance with the guidelines given by authorities in various countries,” he added.

A rescheduled date for the annual commemoration, which was originally set for April 21 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, has yet to be announced.

Last month, Israel’s education minister, Rafi Peretz, ordered the cancellation of all high school trips to Holocaust memorial sites in Poland due to the global spread of the coronavirus. Over 3,000 students had been set to travel to Poland in the coming weeks.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/auschwitz-closes-to-visitors-over-coronavirus-fears/

FBI: Jews were victims of most religion-based hate crimes in 2018

But despite Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, bureau records drop in the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents in America from 2017

A young boy looks at the fenced off entrance to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2019, the first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshipers. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A young boy looks at the fenced off entrance to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2019, the first anniversary of the shooting at the synagogue, that killed 11 worshipers. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

JTA — Despite the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last year, hate crimes against American Jews decreased 11 percent overall in 2018, according to the FBI’s annual hate crimes report.

But Jews were again were the victims of the majority of hate crimes that were based on religion last year in the United States.

But hate crime murders totaled 24 — the highest number since the FBI began tracking statistics in 1991, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL said that the high number was attributable to the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018.

Overall, hate crimes decreased slightly, to 7,120 in 2018 from 7,175 the previous year, with the majority based on race. Almost 19 percent were based on religion and nearly 17 percent on sexual orientation.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/fbi-jews-were-victims-of-most-religion-based-hate-crimes-in-2018/

Netflix docuseries probes life of Nazi guard John Demjanjuk

‘The Devil Next Door,’ set to be released November 4, examines the trials of the Ukrainian-born man mistaken for ‘Ivan the Terrible’ who had his death sentence overturned in Israel

A new Netflix docuseries examines the trials of convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, who was mistaken for the notoriously brutal guard “Ivan the Terrible” of the Treblinka extermination camp and had his death sentence overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court in 1993.

“The Devil Next Door” will be released on November 4.

But in 1993, Israel’s top court unanimously ruled Demjanjuk was not “Ivan the Terrible,” overturning the 1988 verdict and returning him to the US after it received evidence that another Ukrainian, not Demjanjuk, was that Nazi guard.

Demjanjuk later went on to be convicted in Germany of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, in a legal precedent that made him one of the best-known faces of Nazi prosecutions.

The conviction of the retired Ohio autoworker in a Munich court in May 2011 on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder, which was still being appealed upon his death at 91 in 2012, broke new legal ground in Germany as the first time someone was convicted solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in a specific killing.

John Demjanjuk in Israel's Supreme Court in 1991. Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court for serving as a Nazi death camp guard. (photo credit: Flash90)

John Demjanjuk in Israel’s Supreme Court in 1991. Demjanjuk was convicted by a German court for serving as a Nazi death camp guard. (photo credit: Flash90)

It has opened the floodgates to hundreds of new investigations in Germany, though Demjanjuk’s death serves as a reminder that time is running out for prosecutors.

Demjanjuk steadfastly maintained that he had been mistaken for someone else — first wounded as a Soviet soldier fighting German forces, then captured and held as a prisoner of war under brutal conditions.

When they overturned his conviction in Israel, the Supreme Court judges said they still believed Demjanjuk had served the Nazis, probably at the Trawniki SS training camp and Sobibor. But they declined to order a new trial, saying there was a risk of violating the law prohibiting trying someone twice on the same evidence.

After he was released in Israel, Demjanjuk returned to his suburban Cleveland home in 1993 and his US citizenship, which had been revoked in 1981, was reinstated in 1998.

Demjanjuk remained under investigation in the US, where a judge revoked his citizenship again in 2002 based on Justice Department evidence suggesting he concealed his service at Sobibor. Appeals failed, and the nation’s chief immigration judge ruled in 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported to Germany, Poland or Ukraine.

Signs in eight languages at the site of the Sobibor death camp in Poland. (Flickr/Sgvb)

Prosecutors in Germany filed charges in 2009, saying Demjanjuk’s link to Sobibor and Trawniki was clear, with evidence showing that after he was captured by the Germans he volunteered to serve with the fanatical SS and trained as a camp guard.

After his conviction in May 2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison, but was appealing the case to Germany’s high court. He was released pending the appeal, and died a free man in his own room in a nursing home in the southern Bavarian town of Bad Feilnbach.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netflix-docu-series-probes-life-of-nazi-guard-john-demjanjuk/

Ex-SS guard: I saw people led to gas chamber, didn’t know they were being gassed

‘I didn’t see anyone come out,’ says Bruno Dey, 93, being tried on 5,230 counts of accessory to murder for killings while he was at Stutthof camp

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig, arrives at the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The prosecution accuses the 93-year-old man of aiding and abetting the murder of 5,230 people. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

93-year-old former SS guard Bruno Dey in the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig, arrives at the regional court in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The prosecution accuses the 93-year-old man of aiding and abetting the murder of 5,230 people. (Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP)

BERLIN  — A 93-year-old former guard at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp testified at his trial Friday that he once saw people being led into the gas chamber, followed by screaming and banging sounds behind the locked door.

Bruno Dey, a former SS private, went on trial Oct. 17 at the Hamburg state court. He faces 5,230 counts of accessory to murder for killings while he was at Stutthof from 1944 to 1945.

He said he heard screams and banging shortly after, but added: “I didn’t know that they were being gassed.”

Dey said that about 20 or 30 prisoners were led in, and that they didn’t resist. He said he couldn’t say whether they were men or women, because their heads were shaved, or whether they were Jews or other prisoners. And he also couldn’t say what happened afterward.

“I didn’t see anyone come out,” he said.

Gas chamber at Stutthof (Courtesy)

He testified that, on another occasion, he saw a group of 10 or 15 men being led into the gas chamber, but they then came out and were taken to the crematorium building by people in white overalls. He heard that the prisoners were supposed to work outside the camp and had to be checked first, he said.

Dey said he and around 400 other soldiers were brought to Stutthof in June or July 1944 and he didn’t know at the time what kind of people were incarcerated there. He said he heard only “rumors” that they included political prisoners and Jews.

Though there is no evidence that Dey was involved in a specific killing at the camp near Danzig, today the Polish city of Gdansk, prosecutors argue that as a guard he helped the camp function.

Despite his age, Dey is being tried in a juvenile court because he was 17 when he started serving at Stutthof.

He faces a possible six months to 10 years in prison if convicted. There are no consecutive sentences under German law.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ex-ss-guard-on-trial-i-saw-people-led-into-gas-chamber/

Seattle Holocaust center vandalized with white supremacist graffiti

‘Obscure’ symbols discovered on building as teachers’ seminar was taking place inside

Screen capture from video of alleged white supremacist graffiti discovered sprayed on The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, October 2019. (YouTube)

Screen capture from video of alleged white supremacist graffiti discovered sprayed on The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, October 2019. (YouTube)

The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle was vandalized with what it said was white supremacist graffiti.

The graffiti was discovered on Wednesday, the center said in a letter released the following day.

It is the first time in the building’s 30-year history that it has been targeted, local news station KIRO Channel 7 reported.

The Seattle Police Bias Unit is investigating.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/seattle-holocaust-center-vandalized-with-white-supremacist-graffiti/