Category Archive: Times of Israel

Poland said to deny freezing controversial Holocaust law

After Israeli TV report, government spokesperson says law to come into force as planned, but confirms Warsaw sending team to Jerusalem for discussions

Jewish inmates of the Lodz ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland at labor making baskets (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Poland on Sunday reportedly denied an Israeli media claim that it would freeze its controversial new Holocaust law amid a dispute with Jerusalem, but confirmed that an official Polish government delegation would fly to Israel in the next few days to discuss the matter with an Israeli team.

Hadashot news on Saturday said that, in the wake of pressure and protests from Israel over the legislation, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro had stated that the law will not be implemented “at this stage.”
It said a Polish delegation was due in Israel within days to instead try to hammer out an agreed text of the legislation, which has passed Poland’s parliament and been signed by its president but not implemented to date.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem called the development “an achievement” for Israel, the TV report said, following considerable discussion of the law between Warsaw and Jerusalem in recent weeks.

However, the Polish government’s spokeswoman, Joanna Kopczynska, rejected the report on Sunday and said the law would come into force as planned on March 1, Channel 10 reported.

“There is indeed a good chance for a meeting between a Polish team and an Israeli team to discuss the issue, but a date for that hasn’t been set,” Kopczynska said, adding that the Polish team had already been established.

Poland’s justice ministry spokesman, Jan Kanthak, also responded to “media reports” about the Holocaust law, writing on Twitter that “any law passed by the parliament and signed by the president becomes a law that comes into force according to the date mentioned in it.”

Poland’s president on February 6 signed the controversial legislation, which outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

President Andrzej Duda’s office confirmed he had signed over protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world. But Duda also said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.

The legislation, proposed 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, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

“Israel noted the fact that the Polish president referred the law to the Constitutional Court for clarifications on the matter, and hopes that in the period before the verdict is, it will be possible to agree on changes and amendments to the law,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time it was signed. “Israel and Poland have a common responsibility to investigate and preserve the history of the Holocaust.”

There have been reports for days that Poland was offering to send an official delegation to Israel to hammer out agreed-upon amendments to the law. The delegation could reportedly include Poland’s deputy foreign minister and the legal adviser of the prime minister.

Last Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki exacerbated the crisis over the law by declaring that, alongside Poles, “Jewish perpetrators” also bore responsibility for the Holocaust.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of the new law when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation. “Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Morawiecki the next day, and told Morawiecki that Israel did not accept the statement. “I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters following a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Responding to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said last week the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”


Polish TV riposte to Holocaust bill criticism: Auschwitz was ‘Jewish death camp’

Israeli condemnation of legislation outlawing linking Poles to Nazi crimes sparks anti-Semitic backlash; nationalists plan protest outside Israeli embassy in Warsaw

Illustrative photo: Workers removing anti-Semitic graffiti from a Holocaust memorial at a former Nazi concentration camp in Plaszow, southern Poland, on Saturday, March 13, 2010. (AP)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A diplomatic dispute between Poland and Israel over pending legislation that would outlaw blaming Poland for the crimes of the Holocaust has led to an outburst of anti-Semitic comments in Poland, including some in the government-controlled media.

In one instance, the head of a state-run channel suggested referring to Auschwitz as a “Jewish death camp,” in response to an outcry over use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the Nazi killing site in German-occupied Poland.

Poland’s lower house of parliament gave its approval Friday to the bill, which calls for penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who “publicly and against the facts” accuses the Polish people of crimes committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says the law is meant to fight expressions like “Polish death camps,” to refer to the wartime camps that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland, but its provisions are wider, to criminalize talk of Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

“Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” a translation of a key paragraph of the bill reads.

Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured and killed in the camps, and many today feel Poles are being unfairly depicted as perpetrators of the Holocaust.

As part of the same effort, the government launched a website on Tuesday in Polish, German and English with documentary evidence that death camps like Auschwitz were built and operated by Nazi Germany, a historically accurate account.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country. However, there were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans, with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

The Israeli government in the past has supported the campaign against the phrase “Polish death camps,” but it has strongly criticized the new legislation, which still must be approved by the Senate and President Andrzej Duda, who both support it.

Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.

Polish Holocaust and World War II scholars, as well as international organizations including Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Wiesenthal Center, are among groups who have criticized the law. Critics have said they fear the law could lead to self-censorship in academia and that the legislation — which also mentions “other crimes against peace and humanity” — is so broad that it could be used to fight any form of criticism against Poland by authorities already accused of eroding democratic standards.

In a sign of the sensitivities on both sides, Yair Lapid, head of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party and the son of a Holocaust survivor, insisted in a heated Twitter exchange with the Polish Embassy that “there were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that.” An Israeli journalist, Lahav Harkov, also wrote a tweet that consisted only of the phrase “Polish death camps” repeated 14 times.

Such Israeli remarks offended many in Poland, including many who oppose the law and any expressions of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Far-right groups have called for a demonstration Wednesday in front of the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw to protest the “anti-Polish” sentiment they say is being propagated by Israel and some media.

And there has been an eruption of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish comments online and in the media, including in state media, which is tightly controlled by the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party.

The director of the state-run television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, even went so far as to say Monday on air that the Nazi death camps should actually be called Jewish. “Who managed the crematoria there?” he asked — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced to help dispose of gas chamber victims.

Wolski was joined on his show by a right-wing commentator, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, who only a day earlier had used an extremely derogatory term to refer to Jews on Twitter. The comment was later removed.

The gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

And on another talk show Saturday on Polish state TV, anti-Semitic messages posted by viewers on Twitter were shown at the bottom of the screen as one participant said that a Jewish guest was “not really Polish.” The state TV director later apologized for the messages, blaming a technical glitch that caused them to go onto the screen unedited.

In another case, a Polish state radio commentator, Piotr Nisztor, suggested that Poles who support the Israeli position should consider relinquishing their citizenship.

“If somebody acts as a spokesman for Israeli interests, maybe they should think about giving up their Polish citizenship and accepting Israeli citizenship,” Nisztor said in a comment carried on the radio’s official Twitter account.

Some commentators in Poland, however, expressed dismay, saying it reminded them of an official state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaign carried out by Communist authorities in 1968.

“There has been a lot of hate speech against refugees and Muslims over the past two years in state media, but anti-Semitism was so far rare,” said Rafal Pankowski, who monitors anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism as head of the Never Again association. “But in the last couple of days it seems the floodgates have opened.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed after speaking by phone Sunday night to try to resolve differences over the legislation by convening a group of history experts, though it was unclear how effective that will be given the strong support for the bill by the ruling Law and Justice party.

Before the outbreak of World War II, Jews had lived in Poland for centuries, thriving in some eras and even becoming the world’s largest Jewish population at one point. But anti-Semitism in the decades before the war had grown virulent, driving many Polish Jews to emigrate.

Relations between Jews and Poles had seen efforts of reconciliation since the fall of communism, but some fear the current controversy has set that back.

Agnieszka Markiewicz, Central Europe director for AJC, a Jewish global advocacy group, called the language on state media “shocking.”

“It is hard to imagine that there is actually space in the Polish public sphere for such anti-Semitic language and discourse,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s unacceptable, I believe, not only for Polish Jews, but also for millions of Poles who know World War II history.”

“Everybody knows that many, many thousands of Poles killed or betrayed their Jewish neighbors to the Germans, causing them to be murdered,” said Efraim Zuroff, a prominent historian on the Holocaust and the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Sunday. “The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were.”


Lost and found in Auschwitz

Poland’s parliament chose to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day by making it illegal to claim that  Poles were complicit in perpetrating the Holocaust. I chose to mark it by focusing on the wonder of what’s arisen from the ashes of Auschwitz.

I know exactly where and when I lost it. Thirty years ago, while leading a group of American teenagers to Poland on the way to Israel. To be precise, during the morning shacharitservice the day after our visit to Auschwitz. I can even point to the exact line in the prayerbook I was reciting at the moment it happened: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe Who hears our prayers.” The words stuck in my throat. I’ve been struggling to dislodge them ever since.

“Who hears our prayers.” Really? Standing at ground zero of the most horrific atrocity ever perpetrated by God’s creatures, at the epicenter of human suffering, in a place where six million petitions went unanswered, delivered with the fervor of the unwavering faithful, pronounced by souls righteous and guiltless, uttered by those clinging to a last shred of hope… yes, there and then, at that instant, I lost my faith. Or, at the least, a dimension of it.

I lost my faith in a God that intervenes, directs, orchestrates and causes. I lost my faith in a God with a plan. And since then, I have been mouthing those words while silently struggling with their meaning. So why now, why the confession of agnosticism after three decades of theological sparring? Because I recently returned from another visit to Poland where I unexpectedly found something of infinite value in this place of inexpressible loss. Something I want to share with others who find themselves cloistered in this closet of doubt and uncertainty.

My first visit to Poland took place in the dead of winter. There is no better time to visit the death camps if the objective is to convey the horrors of the Holocaust and glimpse from afar the unimaginable suffering of its victims. That was one of the two windows I was intent on opening for the youngsters in my charge. The other looked out onto the richness of Jewish life that had existed in this Jewish cemetery prior to the Nazi invasion. That was it. There was no attempt to connect with the present-day Jewish community of Poland – essentially because there was none to speak of at the time.

How vastly different things are today. This latter visit, which I undertook on behalf of The Jewish Agency, was about exploring the possibilities for engagement. What I discovered was a Jewish community in an inspiring transitional phase, an evolving generation of indigenous members of the community who – while painfully aware of the past – are emerging from the black shadow of the Holocaust and demonstrating an energetic determination to reclaim and renew the heritage that is rightly theirs: the vibrant Jewish life of their forebears that had been decimated.

Among the institutions they are building and the experiences they are creating: Flourishing Jewish Community Centers and Hillel Houses in Krakow and Warsaw. A Limmud festival of learning and culture attracting over 700 participants. A diversity of active synagogues, including Orthodox, Progressive, Reform and Chabad, along with an eminently accessible chief rabbi intent on building an inclusive communal structure in which all are respected and welcome. A vibrant Jewish day school in Warsaw that now runs through 9th grade, and a new Jewish preschool in Krakow, the first to open its doors there since the Nazi occupation. A hundred million dollar, state-of-the-art museum telling the story of Jewish life in Poland from its origins through to the present, a cooperative effort of the Polish government and primarily Jewish philanthropists. A Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life. Five kosher eateries in Warsaw alone. Hundreds of graduates of Israel Birthright programs. A Union of Jewish Communities serving as an umbrella for much of this activity. And more that I didn’t have time to see.

No trek to Treblinka this time round. None of the ashes of Auschwitz. Just the enthusiasm of an ever-growing population of young people in their 20s and 30s, newly discovering their Judaism and celebrating it with a passion.

Poland’s  lower house of parliament chose to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day by passing a bill which would make it punishable by incarceration to insinuate that Poles were responsible for crimes committed by the Nazis on its territory, continuing a long and troubling narrative denying any complicity in the atrocities of the Holocaust. By contrast, the Jews of Poland — 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation survivors — have chosen to commemorate its victims by rejuvenating communal Jewish life there with vibrancy and zeal, wholeheartedly rejecting the conventional perception of Poland as an immense Jewish graveyard.

Their fervor is infectious — and rehabilitating. I found myself finding, in what they have found, something of what I’d lost on my last visit. Not a resolution to the toughest theological questions, not a restoration of faith in a God that responds deliberately to our entreaties, but an affirmation, arising from the ashes, that there are energies out there beyond our ability to grasp and mysteries of the soul that transcend any conceivable understanding of the corporal.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a call to the world never to forget nor never to deny. It should also be an occasion to celebrate the irreducible and indomitable human spirit that refuses to be stifled by the deafening silence of the God we restore daily, who hears our prayers but who responds imperceptibly, if at all. Who better to teach us that lesson than the remnants of the 3,000,000 Jews of Poland who were annihilated?

Visitors to Poland be warned, organizers of March of the Living, beware: Auschwitz is one story; the Jewish community of today is its inspiring sequel. Don’t visit one and ignore the other. As immeasurably insufficient as it might be, there is a tiny bit of compensation to be found in the latter for what we lost in the former.


Sam Bloch, survivor who devoted life to memory of Shoah, dies at 94

Bloch organized gatherings for survivors in US and Israel and helped found international fundraising arms of Yad Vashem and IDF

Sam Bloch speaking during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen camp on April 17, 2005. (JOCHEN LUEBKE/AFP/Getty Images)

Sam Bloch, a Holocaust survivor who committed much of his life to ensuring that the murder of millions of Jews would not be denied and the lives they led would not be forgotten, died Sunday. He was 94.

Bloch was an executive of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for 50 years.

He was one of the principal organizers of historic survivor gatherings in Jerusalem, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York. The New York Times published a lengthy article about Bloch and his family in 1981 as they prepared to attend the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem.

”Memory stengthens our humanity, makes us better persons to one another, to our children,” Bloch told The Times. “Maybe we don’t smile or laugh as others do, but we cherish our lives; they were so hard won.”

Bloch was a founder of Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People (then known as the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora) and served as chairman of the American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot and a member of its Board of Governors. For many years he was also a member of the board of directors of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress.

In addition, Bloch was a founding member of the International Society for Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, and a founder of the American Friends of the IDF.

Bloch was born in Ivie, Poland, in what today is Belarus. He attended high school in Vilna, and was home on a school break when World War II broke out, according to information provided by his family.

His father was murdered by the Einsatzgruppen Nazi mobile killing unit, and Bloch, his mother and brother escaped from the Jewish ghetto and hid first with Christian farmers and then in the woods. They later joined the Bielski partisan brigade and were able to survive the war.

He was the youngest leader of the Jewish Committee that governed the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, the largest Jewish DP camp in Germany and a major center for the rehabilitation of 50,000 survivors of the Holocaust, as well as the flight and rescue operations in Europe that brought survivors to then-Palestine.

He met and married his wife of 69 years, Lilly Czaban, in the DP camp, from where they immigrated to the United States.

Bloch served as president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants; president of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Survivors Associations; chairman of the Advisory Council of the Foundation for World War II Memorial Sites in Lower Saxony, Germany, and served as a member of its board.

In 1981, Elie Wiesel, then-chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council, appointed him as chairman of the council’s Board of Advisers as well as a member of its Development, Days of Remembrance, and Content committees.

Bloch was appointed by then-New York Mayor Ed Koch to the commission that created the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. As chair of the Jewish section of the Swiss Humanitarian Fund, he assisted in distributing $180 million to needy survivors. He continued to serve on the board of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany until his death.

He published 30 volumes of Holocaust memoirs, history and poetry, in English, Hebrew and Yiddish editions, as editor of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Press, and edited numerous significant documentary volumes.

“Sam was a giant, one of the last of what was truly the ‘Greatest Generation’ who emerged from the devastation of the Shoah not with bitterness and hatred, but with a determination to create new families, and rebuild Jewish life, all the while devoting his energies to perpetuating Holocaust memory and strengthening Jewish identity,” said Menachem Rosensaft, Bloch’s son-in-law, who himself was born in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp and was the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “He was a lifelong Zionist who dedicated himself to the unity of the Jewish people with the State of Israel at its core.”

He is survived by his wife, two daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


The 1924 trial of Adolf Hitler that made the Nazi party a household name

According to a new book, the future architect of the Holocaust was tried long before his genocidal crimes — and ironically, his guilt launched him into popularity

Adolf Hitler addresses leaders and members of the Nazi party in Munich, Germany on November 8, 1934. They are gathered in the Munich restaurant where Hitler staged the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch on November 8, 1923. This gathering, 11 years later, is in honor of the Nazis who were killed in the failed ‘putsch.’ (AP Photo)

Ten defendants, led by Adolf Hitler and other Nazi party members, gathered in a packed Munich courtroom on February 26, 1924, to begin their trial for high treason.

The charges were related to an event from the previous November, when Hitler and his Nazi comrades attempted a coup to bring down the Weimar Republic.
The failed coup became known as the Beer Hall Putsch.

The subsequent trial was expected to bring about the final nail in the coffin for the Nazi party — then just four years old, and which garnered little support across Germany.

Indeed, when the trial was announced in December 1923, the international press predicted Hitler would either be executed, serve a long prison sentence, or face deportation.

Instead, the courtroom drama, which took place over 24 days, worked wonders for Nazi propaganda. Hitler turned the dock into a platform for both himself and his party in an attempt to put the young Weimar Republic on trial.

Hitler was, in fact, found guilty. But his prison time would amount to just eight-and-a-half months of what was supposed to be a five-and-a-half-year sentence.

As US historian and author David King explains in his recently published book “The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany,” the court room drama turned its star defendant into an unlikely international celebrity and statesman in the making.

“When the trial opened in February 1924 in Munich, Hitler had a chance to redefine himself as this national hero,” says the historian, whose book has recently been long listed for the JQ Wingate Prize.

“The incident caused headlines all over the international press, and Hitler’s name became known thereafter. He could not have bought the kind of publicity he got at the trial even if he wanted to,” King adds.

Even if some members of the liberal media at the time were condemning the trial as a grave miscarriage of justice, King says that the sensationalist headlines and extensive coverage the trial received gave Hitler a much larger and more prominent audience than he had ever known.

“During the trial the socialist and communist newspapers called Hitler a racist and said, ‘Don’t fall for this guy,’” says King. “But a lot of the far-right media built Hitler into a martyr and national hero from this moment on, because he brought the far right together by taking some responsibility and [leadership], and then created an enemy by attacking the Jews.”

The first half of King’s book gives a blow-by-blow account of the Putsch itself, which was mostly a farce. By November 1923, Hitler and his associates had plotted a plan to seize power of the Bavarian state government, that involved using Erich Ludendorff — the right-wing World War I general— as a figurehead to lead a march on Berlin to overthrow the Weimar Republic.

Adolf Hitler speaks at the Munich beer hall on the 15th anniversary of the abortive putsch of 1923. Shortly after he left on November 8, 1939, a tremendous explosion would rock the hall, killing six and injuring 60. (AP photo)

On November 8 — along with hundreds of armed Brownshirts in tow — Hitler marched into a meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller (beer hall) in Munich. The group seized two nationalist politicians — Gustav Ritter von Kahr, and General Otto Hermann von Lossow — as well as Munich’s police chief, Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser.

The Nazi revolutionaries subsequently forced their Weimar government captives to support a demand to march to Berlin and seize power.

But Hitler’s prisoners broke free, calling in police and army reinforcements. And so the attempted coup was quashed fairly quickly.

Hitler had hoped to grasp power just as Benito Mussolini had the year before, when the Italian fascist marched on Rome with his far right comrades. Instead, the Beer Hall Putsch — where 16 Nazis and four police officers were killed in the fighting — was an abysmal failure. Still, it was a landmark moment for both Hitler and the Nazi party.

“Hitler wasn’t very well known before the Putsch,” King explains. “He sounded funny, almost like a buffoon. He wanted to take over [the Weimar] government, but instead of taking over a military barracks, he took over a beer hall.”

“Hitler and his troops fired a shot and declared a national revolution. Later in the shoot out, a bullet missed Hitler. By Sunday morning he was arrested,” says King.

King’s book recalls how a New York Times article documented the Putsch at the time: The reporter pointed out that even though Hitler presented himself as the leader of the so called new right-wing dictatorship, “he scarcely seemed to fill the part and seemed [like] a little man in an old waterproof coat.”

Munich certainly didn’t appear to be in the throes of a revolution on November 9, the day after the Putsch. However, the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter reported the news with hubris and unapologetic racism.

That paper described how Hitler had triumphed over “five years of the most atrocious shame and disgrace perpetrated by Jews and the Jewish regime.”

For Munich’s Jewish community, the Putsch would indeed be a night of terror.

Nazi street fighting units and Stormtroopers prowled the downtown Munich area looking for Jews to rob or attack, while others smashed Jewish owned stores and dragged away Jews they found on their rampage.

“There were gangs of hooligans just roaming the streets, going through telephone books and names on door bells that sounded Jewish for people they could attack,” says King. “So a lot of Jews were beat up the night of the Putsch. The police records document about 50 or 60 Jews being seized from their homes.”

“But the trial [only] covered Hitler’s high treason,” Kings adds. “And so crimes like attacking the Jews, or storming the [Jewish] printing press just didn’t get coverage in the trial.”

King spends an entire chapter in his book documenting Hitler’s closing speech in a Munich courtroom on March 27, 1924.

“The [final] speech in the trial helped define Hitler from this buffoon to an international [figure],” says King. “It was Hitler’s biggest audience hitherto, his moment in the spotlight and arguably one of the most important talks of his career.”

Hitler began his speech in the trial declaring that the Weimar Republic was founded on a “crime of high treason.”

Before the war, said Hitler, Germany had boasted an army and civil service that stood as the envy of the world. It was only defeated, he went on, because the army had been betrayed by a “stab in the back.”

Hitler then went on to blame socialists, revolutionaries, Marxists, and what he called “the racial tuberculosis of the people in the international Jews.”

Hitler concluded his speech by claiming that even if he was found guilty, the eternal court of history would acquit him.

Crucially though, much of the speech was reproduced in “Mein Kampf,”the hate fueled anti-Semitic blueprint for National Socialism that was first published in 1925, and which sold 12 million copies in 18 languages by 1945.

As King’s book explains, the most notable similarities between the trial speech and the bestselling book were in Hitler’s long rants about developing a pathological hatred of Jews while living in cosmopolitan early-20th century Vienna. It was a place where Jews played a central role in the economic and cultural vibrancy of public life.

However, Kings says this narrative may not be as clear cut as it appears at first glance. In fact, the historian claims that not a single anti-Semitic comment from Hitler can be traced back to his Vienna days. Moreover, his closest friend at the time was a Jewish copper polisher named Josef Neumann, while his art dealer, Samuel Morgenstern, was Jewish too.

“There is a big debate between Hitler biographers about how much Vienna changed him and made him an anti-Semite,” says King. “And while there was a lot of anti-Semitism at the time in Vienna, now biographers are saying that Munich was a pretty big [influence] too.”

“Munich had a communist revolution that made a lot of people turn towards the right. And so this gave Hitler an enemy at the time to thrive on,” King adds.

So if there was no prominent anti-Semitic sentiment coming from Hitler during this period, why then did he insist that his anti-Semitism manifested so intensely in Vienna?

“He wanted to cover up part of his past,” King explains.

That past, the historian notes, involved being a representative of the Demobilization Battalion of the Second Infantry Regiment to the Revolutionary Council, which seized power in the chaos following Germany’s defeat in World War I.

Hitler became a deputy battalion representative of Munich’s “Red Republic” during this postwar period, too — and some of his duties involved delivering propaganda to the left-wing regime.

“Munich had a revolution at the end of the war. But German historians have pointed out that Hitler had actually served the revolutionary government, which he never admitted to,” says King.

And so Hitler did his utmost during the trial of 1924 to distance himself from a narrative that might have seen him openly rubbing shoulders with socialists, Marxists, or Jews.

King says he was surprised to find out that no book length account of the trial has ever appeared in English, especially given the wealth of archival material available on it. This included court documents, pretrial investigations, police files, the trial transcript, and the papers of lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution.

The trial itself took place in the so-called People’s Court, which had been set up in Bavaria as an emergency measure in November 1918. It was subsequently reestablished in July 1919.

The name of the institution was derived from the fact that the court operated as a tribunal of five judges: two professionals and three laymen. With the absence of any judicial review, however, the presiding judges of the People’s Court were — as one Munich lawyer put it at the time — “judicial kings.”

The closing statements of the prosecution team, led by Ludwig Stenglein, ensured that justice would never be served accordingly, says King.
The author recalls in his book how Stenglein had commended Hitler in his closing address to the court as “a brave soldier [who] was filled with genuine, blazing enthusiasm for a great German Fatherland.”

The prosecutor then added how Hitler “created from the smallest beginnings a great party — the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party.”

“A lot of the foreign newspapers that were covering the trial were saying ‘This is the worst prosecution speech I’ve ever heard,’” says King, “because the prosecutor praised Hitler. [The Press ] at the time said, ‘The judge likes Hitler and is a Nazi.’”

One of the most notable concerns of the trial at the time was the fact that the Austrian-born Hitler was not a German citizen.

“Being Austrian, the law said Hitler should have been deported,” King explains. “But the judge in the trial called him a German-Austrian, referring to his service in the German army.”

King points out how turning a blind eye to Hitler’s nationality in the trial was a crucial turning point in German and world history.

“Hitler was guilty in the trial. He bragged about being guilty, but he got a slap on the wrist and was out by the end of 1925, a year after the verdict was delivered,” King says.

King believes the 20th century might have turned out very differently had the trial of Adolf Hitler in 1924 gone in another direction.

“In the late 1920s, less than three percent of the population in Germany voted for Hitler,” says King, “and then as the Great Depression hit in 1929, those numbers went up and up.”

“Hitler was actually on parole when he did the Beer Hall putsch. This was another fact that did not come out in the trial,” King concludes. “At the end of the trial there was such a miscarriage of justice that a lot of people were saying the judge should have been sentenced.”


At Jewish-Roma Holocaust event, bowing heads to the ‘forgotten victims’

At first joint commemoration event at the European Parliament, MPs of Romani extraction warn Europe is again ‘at a crossroads’

BRUSSELS — Jewish European leaders and Israeli lawmakers gathered with representatives of the Roma community in the European Parliament on Wednesday for a joint commemoration of the Holocaust, the first such joint event at the legislative body, with European MPs of Romani extraction lamenting widespread ignorance about the “forgotten victims of the Holocaust” and bemoaning the rise of the far-right.
“Roma are sort of the forgotten victims of the Holocaust. The vast majority of my European fellows still don’t even know that during the Second World War, members of the Roma community, among others, have been oppressed by the Nazi regime,” said Lívia Járóka, a vice president of the European Parliament, rapporteur on EU Roma strategy, and the first Romani female MP in the European parliament, upon unveiling an exhibit on the genocide.
Hundreds of thousands of Roma were killed by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945, of whom 23,000 were interred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Members of the community, along with the Sinti minority, were also subject to Nazi racial discrimination laws in the lead-up to the Holocaust, forced sterilizations in the 1930s, and medical experimentation in the death camps.

The Hungarian-born Jaroka, whose mother is Jewish and father is Roma, put the number of Roma killed at half a million. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there are no precise figures on the number of Romani victims, but estimates put the number of dead of the one-million strong community in Europe at the time at 220,000.

“All victims faced the same suffering, the same fate, and the same ending by the same perpetrators,” said European Parliament MP Soraya Post, rapporteur on Roma fundamental rights.

At the European Parliament event organized by the European Jewish Congress, Romani Holocaust survivors were present along with Jewish ones for the first joint annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.

“When I see the survivors, I see my own failure, and my own generation’s failures. And how strong they are, and [that] we have no time to rest. We have to prioritize,” Post told The Times of Israel after the event.

The Romani genocide was only recognized by West Germany for purposes of reparations in 1982, after many of its survivors had died, and many still do not receive full the compensation they are eligible for.

Post, in her address, slammed the rise of the European far right, charging that “neo-Nazis openly parade on our squares, chanting out their hate propaganda.”

“They should have no place in open society. We have seen what they are capable of. We are at a crossroads,” she said.

After the event, she pointed to Bulgaria — “seven of their 21 ministers are extreme right” — and the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria.

“I’m frustrated, I’m also disappointed how they even could get that far.”

Though Jewish and Roma populations enjoyed warm ties in some areas of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, a joint post-war commemoration is rare. Though billed as a joint event, the unveiling of the Romani exhibit was accompanied by speeches by the Romani MPs, while the main ceremony in the hall featured speeches by Israeli and Jewish leaders on rising anti-Semitism.

Post said there was collaboration between European Jewish groups and Roma groups, particularly among students, though it “could be maybe more visible.”

But she refrained from opining on whether the Israeli government could, or should, have aided their efforts. “About Israel, I don’t know. My father is Jewish…. but I don’t like the regime of Israel today. I support the State of Israel, of course, 100 percent, but I also support a Palestinian state,” she said.

As for Jews, she added: “I think the Jewish people could have done more for the Roma and maybe they’ll think about it and start now.”


Yad Vashem stages ambitious show of rare photos taken by Nazis and their victims

Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s national Shoah museum focuses on the impact of thousands of now iconic images from ghettos, camps, and liberation


View of section of ‘Flashes of Memory’ exhibition at Yad Vashem showing image of photographer Zvi Hirsch Kadushin (later George Kaddosh) in the Kovno ghetto, his camera, and some of the photos he smuggled out after going into hiding before the ghetto’s liquidation. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Near the end of Jerusalem-based exhibition “Flashes of Memory: Photography During the Holocaust,” is a glass case containing a loose pile of postcard-size photographs of scenes from the Dachau concentration camp. Some show inmates shoving dead bodies into crematoria. Others show torture scenes, with prisoners’ bodies hanging from nooses.

These images in Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center’s new show are horrific, but they are not here merely to shock. Rather, they — like the other more than 1,500 others — are meant to provoke questions about who took them, where, when, how, and why.
The Dachau photos are authentic, but not in the usual sense of the word. They were taken by US Signal Corps troops who liberated the camp in April 1945, and the scenes depicted in them are reenactments staged with the help of former inmates. The images were captured, printed and disseminated widely throughout Allied-occupied Germany for the purpose of reeducating the German population.
They also ended up in the hands of historical commissions set up by Jews in displaced persons camps throughout Europe, and in those of US soldiers who took them home with them. More than 70 years later, people are still discovering them in old shoeboxes and albums and regularly offering them to Holocaust museums. Most of the donors are ignorant of, or mistaken about, the true context of the photos’ creation.

Virtually none of the still and moving images made by the Nazis, Jews and liberating Allied forces displayed in “Flashes of Memory” are revealed here for the first time. They were previously published or shown elsewhere, with some, like “The Warsaw Ghetto Boy” photo having achieved iconic status. Most are from Yad Vashem’s collection of over half a million Holocaust-related photographs (originals and copies).

However, these images are exhibited here in a different light, and in a way that casts a more critical lens on Holocaust-era photography. The exhibition goes beyond the usual emotional response and takes a more cerebral and analytical approach.

“This exhibition is for the brain, not the heart,” said Dr. Daniel Uziel, director of Yad Vashem’s photo archives as he gave this reporter a tour.

The thoughtfulness of the exhibition is highlighted by its creative and intelligent design by Yossi Karni of Design Mill Studio, who said he aimed to make viewers feel as though they are entering a giant camera obscura.

The experience begins before even entering through the doors, with a huge round window resembling a camera lens cut into the wall outside the exhibition. The view from this “lens” leads straight through to a very large round projection at the far end of the exhibition hall, on which are shown clips from Holocaust-era films and quotations about photography.

Along the room’s central axis between these two points are several long light tables covered in hundreds of scattered copies of photographs beginning with Jewish life in Germany and ending with the liquidation of the ghettos.

The visual language of photography and cameras carries over to the exhibition’s black walls inspired by the look and texture of an old Leica camera, as well as by unwound film spools.

Curated by Vivian Uria, “Flashes of Memory,” is organized into three main sections following along a timeline starting from the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany in the 1930s to the trials of Nazi war criminals in the immediate post-war period.

The first section, “Political Photography and Filming in Nazi Germany,” deals with Nazification efforts through visual means. Photographs and film posters related to the making of director Helena “Leni” Riefenstahl‘s propagandistic “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia” films figure prominently.

Photography is also presented as a mirror of growing anti-Semitism. Here we see private and amateur photography reflecting growing anti-Semitism among average Germans, as well as examples of how editors of Der Stürmer, the propagandistic newspaper published independently by Julius Streicher, redacted photographs and accompanying captions to transmit anti-Semitic messages.

The exhibition’s second area deals with photography in the ghettos from two view points — that of the Germans and that of the Jews. Of the tens of thousands of photos from the ghettos, most were taken by German soldiers, either for official Nazi propaganda purposes, or personal objectives.

In some cases, the personal turned propaganda, as can be seen with small snapshots taken by German soldiers on display. The soldiers wrote anti-Semitic commentary about the ghettos and their forced inhabitants on the backs and sent them to Der Stürmer for publication.

In what is arguably the most engrossing part of the exhibition, the work of Jewish photographers in the ghettos is presented. There were few such photographers, as Jews were prohibited from owning and using cameras. Those who did do photography did it in an official capacity, creating images that the Judenrats (Jewish councils set up by the Nazis) could use to prove efficient self-rule and productivity. Indeed, photographers were key players in Jewish survival efforts in the ghettos.

These photographers often took the risk of taking additional photographs for non-official purposes in order to create a more realistic documentation of life in the ghettos.

A stunning example is a shot of photographer Mendel Grossman surreptitiously photographing the deportation of Jews from the Łódź ghetto as a Jewish policeman looks the other way — whether purposely or inadvertently. The photo was taken by Grossman’s assistant Aryeh Ben-Menachem.

Uziel pointed out a page from an underground album prepared by Ben-Menachem in 1943 presenting harsher aspects of ghetto life than those appearing in the official Judenrat statistic reports. Ben-Menachem survived Auschwitz, although his original album did not. The existing copy was believed to have been made in 1944 by members of the Polish Underground after the album made it into their hands.

Zvi Hirsch Kadushin (later, George Kaddosh or Kadish) was the only photographer in the Kovno ghetto, working underground for the Judenrat. He developed techniques for taking pictures through a buttonhole in his coat, and went into hiding with his photos before the liquidation of the ghetto. His photos were exhibited in various locations after the war.

Although the Warsaw ghetto was the largest, the images from the Jewish perspective produced there amount to a fraction of the 14,000 that survived from Łódź.

According to Uziel, Jewish photographers were rarely permitted to work in the Warsaw ghetto. No trace remains of the names of the photographers whose pictures survived the war in the underground “Oneg Shabbat” archives directed by historian Emanuel Ringelblum.

“Early on, the Warsaw ghetto Judenrat called on Polish photographers to do the visual documentation required, like in the case of this 1940 album prepared jointly by the Judenrat and the Joint (JDC) to raise support for the ghetto’s residents,” said Uziel as he pointed to a photo of a truck delivering matzah for Passover, and another of Jews in line to receive aid packages.

The final section of “Flashes of Memory” contains images made by Allied forces as they liberated the Nazi death and labor camps. More than any others, these graphic images have had the greatest hand in shaping the collective memory of the Holocaust over the last seven decades. Among their immediate uses were showing the folks back home what they were fighting for, reeducating the German populace, and creating documentation for the prosecution of war criminals.

Although many of the photographs and films were made in real time as the troops entered the camps and discovered who and what was within, some — like the Dachau ones — were staged at a later date.

The Russians, for instance, arrived at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 unprepared to create visual documentation, so they brought in official government photographers and international press a week later for a “liberation” photo op.

“They simply put the inmates in their uniforms back inside and closed the gate,” Uziel said.

“Flashes of Memory” is designed by all its creators to provoke questions, including ones about the morality of exhibiting and publishing Holocaust-era images, the majority of them produced by the Nazis.

“It’s the right thing to do, because in many cases it’s all we have to show what happened and the people who were killed,” Uziel said.

Then he walked over to some pages from a diary kept by Rachel Auerbach in the Warsaw ghetto. Auerbach expressed the same sentiment, writing (in Yiddish) in 1942 upon observing filming taking place:

“They should leave a sneak view of the Jewish passersby on the crowded streets in the movie. The faces, the eyes that in future years will shout out in silence. They should all be commemorated; the droves of beggars, the people of yesterday slowing dying from the hardships and starvation in the closed ghetto. And another thing, the main one — they should add the German participants in this drama. They were the lead actors in this play,” she wrote.


Holocaust survivors say they’ll harbor asylum seekers to stymie deportations

Those who had help to escape the Nazis say Israeli has a moral duty to save African migrants from the deadly dangers they face

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Several Holocaust survivors have spoken out against a government plan to deport tens of thousands African migrants from the country, with some saying they are prepared to hide the asylum seekers in their homes to help them avoid being sent to areas where their lives would be in danger.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called Infiltrator’s Law, mandating the closure of a detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritreans and Sudanese starting in March.

The move prompted protests from social activists, among them Holocaust survivors, some of whom told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the Jewish state has a moral duty to protect the migrants. In an article published Tuesday, some were quoted as saying they would take African migrants into their homes to hide them to prevent their deportation.

Veronika Cohen, 73, a survivor from Budapest, Hungary, vowed to do what she could against the deportations, including hiding migrants in her home.

“I always asked myself what I would have done if, during the Holocaust, I was on the other side — would I have been strong enough to do what the Righteous Among the Nations did? I don’t know if I would have been able to risk the lives of my children, but here they aren’t asking us to risk our lives. I feel that to do this is my humanitarian duty.”

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, where some residents and activists have blamed them for rising crime rates and lobbied the government for deportation.

Hana Arnon, 77, who was born in the Netherlands, drew comparisons to Anne Frank, the Dutch girl who famously wrote a diary while hiding with her family in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. The Franks were eventually discovered by the Germans and murdered in concentration camps.

“Who were the heroes in addition to Anne Frank?” Arnon asked. “The people who tried to save her and her family. We need to learn from them.”

Ilana Drucker, 79, whose family survived by running from Germany to the Netherlands, where they were saved by non-Jews, said that although she would hide migrants in her home, she rejects the comparison to Anne Frank.

“I am angry that this is being compared to Anne Frank,” she told Yedioth. “If I take in a refugee to my home, they won’t kill me and it won’t endanger my family. My parents were friends with Anne Frank’s parents. The family that hid us risked their lives.”

Objection to the deportations has been gaining support, and on Monday, three El Al pilots published Facebook posts announcing their refusal to participate in the government program by not flying them to Rwanda or Uganda.

The act is mostly symbolic, as El Al does not fly directly to Rwanda or Uganda, and deported migrants usually fly on other airlines through Ethiopia or Jordan.

On Monday, more than 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers gathered outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya to protest the planned forced deportations.

They were joined by some 100 Israelis, including 10 students in a pre-army preparatory year in Jerusalem, who are organizing a demonstration against deportations in Jerusalem for February 1.

Meanwhile, dozens of asylum seekers protested outside President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday against planned forced deportations of African refugees to third-party countries said to be Uganda and Rwanda.

The demonstrators held signs reading “Don’t despair, we will stop the expulsion” and chanted “We are human beings!”