Category Archive: Together

Roman was instrumental in all of our organizational activities, from the national and worldwide survivor gatherings of the 1980’s to the yearly memorial services at Yom HaShoah. He was an eloquent orator whose voice reached millions through his speech at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Roman was a determined advocate for survivor reparations and for the acknowledgment of and advocacy for righteous gentiles, negotiating with the German government and winning concessions from them even as he was personally weakening from age and illness, to assure that survivors and those who had helped Jews during the war years might live out their days as free from want as possible.

His enthusiasm for teachers and for Holocaust education led him to develop a strong relationship with HAJRTP. He often said that education would ensure that his past would not be our children’s future. So many of our teachers were witnesses to his riveting testimony about his survival during the Nazi occupation of Lodz and his concentration camp experiences. He never failed to remind us of the devotion of his dog Lala who followed the family into the ghetto. He talked with humor and love about the years after the war, when he came to the United States as an orphan, lived with a foster family in Atlanta and was able to continue his education at Emory University.

Roman’s generosity was boundless. In his last years he made sure the teacher program would continue through personally funding “last dollars” when the program was in financial straits. He was a lively presence at our alumni reunions, regaling groups with his stories and jokes.  He came to the teacher send-offs in recent years though it was increasingly difficult for him to travel and emotionally draining for him to speak. He always held the audience in the palm of his hand with his gentle manner and his insistent warning that we should teach children not to be bystanders.

Roman’s beautiful wife Hannah who was also a survivor and friend of HAJRTP died in 2017. He is survived by his daughter Susan Avjian and his son Jeffrey Kent. Also surviving are his son-in-law Robert, his grandchildren Dara, Eryn and Sean, and his great-granddaughter Hannah.

May his memory be for a blessing..

Coalition Letter in Support of the Never Again Education Act H.R. 5460 -…

Click here for the full letter

The new ‘new anti-Semitism’ in Western Europe feels eerily familiar

Phenomenon has mutated yet again, reverting to its 20th-century economic elements and gaining a strong foothold in swelling populist movements


Anti-Semitic graffiti found on the Bagelstein restaurant in Paris, France on February 9. 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

Anti-Semitic graffiti found on the Bagelstein restaurant in Paris, France on February 9. 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The working assumption about 21st-century anti-Semitism is that it is making a comeback in Western Europe due to a “perfect storm” driven by Muslim immigrants and European white ultra-nationalists.

This basic model has corresponded with the flowering of hate speech and crimes against Jews in Western Europe that began around 2000. That year, Muslim extremists for the first time torched several French synagogues over Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorists during the second intifada.

It was the onset of a phenomenon that later became known as “new anti-Semitism,” in which Jews are targeted as Israel’s agents or as payback for the Jewish state’s perceived abuses.

Two years later, the Holocaust denier and anti-Muslim agitator Jean-Marie Le Pen took his far-right National Front party to the second round of the presidential elections for the first time.

These coinciding developments heralded a new and disturbing reality in which two rival and relatively small groups appeared to be growing and, through their rhetoric and actions, were eroding the taboo placed on anti-Semitism following the horrors of the Holocaust.

But over the past four years, anti-Semitism in Western Europe has mutated yet again, reverting to its 20th-century economic elements and gaining a strong foothold in swelling populist movements. Purveyors don’t necessarily share a common political view, but they agree that Jews are the exemplars of an establishment they seek to overthrow.

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalized with a swastika during a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, on February 19, 2019, on the day of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. (Frederick Florin/Pool/AFP)

This mutation, most visible in France’s yellow vest protests and the spreading of anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party, is remarkable in how quickly it has moved from the fringes of public discourse into mainstream frameworks.

The yellow vests blame Jewish financial interests for their economic and social woes. Labour members have targeted Israel and Zionists using familiar language about Jewish power and foreignness.

But the main and possibly most troubling distinction of the latest new anti-Semitism is how it cuts across major religious and ideological differences among its propagators, uniting unlikely bedfellows such as neo-Nazis, communists and jihadists under a single cause.

A man wearing a yellow vest holds a placard reading ‘I am Jew,’ during a gathering at the Republique square to protest against anti-Semitism, in Paris, France, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus

“Anti-Semitism in Western Europe is morphing again,” said Mike Whine, the government and international affairs director at the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s watchdog group. “It may take government a long time to recognize the change,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Reflecting the change is how rhetoric on Jewish domination of finance — often personified in the Rothschild banking family — has become “pervasive” in Labour since the far-left politician Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead the party in 2015, according to Euan Philipps, the spokesman for the Labour Against Anti-Semitism action group.

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the stage after delivering a speech at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 24, 2018. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images via JTA)

This month a former lecturer at the University of Liverpool, who chairs a local branch of the Labour Party, was reported to have shared conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family on a talk show. Another party activist retweeted Rothschild memes from the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke. A former Labour parliamentary candidate in Essex endorsed an online post in 2017 claiming the “Rothschild Family” was behind a Zionist plot to “take over the world.”

Andy Slack, who represented Labour on the City Council of Chesterfield, near Manchester, was suspended in 2016 for posting on Facebook an image of a hook-nosed Israeli soldier whose mouth and hands are covered in blood. The caption read “Israel was created by the Rothschilds, not God … And what they are doing to the Palestinian people now is EXACTLY what they intend for the whole world.”

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

In Spain, the leader of the rising far-left Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, has hosted guests many times who inveigh against “the Jewish control on Wall Street,” as one of them defined it recently on his show “Fort Apache,” which airs on the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel HispanTV.

In France, which is home to nearly half of Western Europe’s approximately 1.3 million Jews, similar rhetoric has emerged in a wave of yellow vest demonstrations over fuel prices and taxes that began in November.

People walk down the Champs Elysees avenue on February 16, 2019 during the 14th consecutive week of ‘yellow vest’ protests. (Eric Feferberg/AFP)

From the onset, supporters of that mass movement took up anti-Semitic language, including a banner that called French President Emmanuel Macron “a whore of the Jews” and “President Rothschild.”

Last week, yellow vest protesters mobbed a Jewish philosopher who has declared his principled support for their cause. As police officers escorted Alain Finkielkraut to safety, the crowd chanted for him to “go to Tel Aviv” and called him “dirty Zionist.”

French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut is targeted by yellow vest protesters shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Paris, February 16, 2019 (Screen grab via Yahoo)

Leaders of that chaotic movement have either ignored these incidents or downplayed them as marginal while professing their general opposition to all forms of discrimination.

More than any other incident, the exchange involving Finkielkraut led to a wave of indignation in France over anti-Semitism. Thousands gathered in Paris on Tuesday for a rally against that form of racism following Macron’s condemnations, especially the incident involving Finkielkraut. Other rallies were held across the country.

But that case was an example of the so-called new anti-Semitism that erupted in 2000, in which anti-Israel sentiment played an outsize role.

What’s different now?

The proliferation of theories about Jewish financial power and the Rothschilds do not involve Israel. And while this form of classic anti-Semitism, associated with “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” had never entirely left Europe, it certainly had been marginalized after the Holocaust.

“Its return in a big way is a new development,” according to Marc Weitzmann, a French author and journalist who has written extensively about anti-Semitism in France.

The main components of modern anti-Semitism in France are not new, Weitzmann said. What has changed, he said, is how the narratives of the far left, far right and Muslim extremists “have begun to mirror each other and are now converging against the Jews and toward violence in ways that would have been unthinkable in France prior to 2015.”

Weitzmann said the catalyst for this convergence are jihadist terrorist attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives in France and Belgium since 2015.

“Terror has freed a general violence” in society, he said.

As for the return of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to mainstream debate in Europe, it does not come as a shock to Whine, the Community Security Trust executive from Britain.

Illustrative: Nazi signs reading ‘Jews out’ and swastikas are painted at the entrance of a Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, eastern France, in this April 30, 2004 photo. (AP Photo/Gil Michel)

“You’ve always had this sentiment under the surface,” he said. “It’s coming out as a result of the collapse of the political center, loss of faith in democratic institutions and economic crises, for which Jews are being blamed.”

The mainstreaming of classical anti-Semitism by the far left was seen in 2013 when Corbyn publicly defended a London mural depicting Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of black people. The incident “in many ways represents the problem,” Whine said. (Corbyn has since apologized for defending the work.)

On the right, politicians who were considered centrist not long ago have also taken up language reminiscent of 1930s vitriol about Jews.

Last year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a speech that his government was fighting an enemy that is “not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

Illustrative: A gravestone daubed with a swastika and the words ‘tolerance is weakness’ at the Cherkasy Jewish cemetery, Ukraine, May 5, 2017. (Courtesy)

US President Donald Trump’s election amid his expressions of disdain for “globalists” has coincided with a marked increase in hate crimes against American Jews — some by perpetrators who identify those globalists as Jewish.

Amid widespread discontent with the European Union, vilification of Israel and radicalization in Muslim communities, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Western Europe has increased in Germany (10 percent over 2017 to 1,646 incidents); France (74 percent to 541 cases) and the United Kingdom (16 percent to a record 1,652 incidents last year).

The government response

Western European governments, several of which have recently adopted a far-reaching definition of anti-Semitism, have not been idle as all this was happening.

In France, where soldiers were posted to guard synagogues in 2015 following a jihadist’s slaying of four Jews at a Paris kosher shop, the judiciary has cracked down on anti-Semitic hate crimes. Last month, the anti-Semitic author Alain Soral was given a rare one-year prison sentence for his writings.

Addressing the advent of new anti-Semitism, Macron in 2017 became the first French president to publicly call anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism. He said this at his country’s main Holocaust commemoration event.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF – Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France) on February 20, 2019, at the Louvre Carrousel in Paris. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP)

In Britain, the government last year pledged $17.5 million in security funding for the Community Security Trust, which fights anti-Semitism in addition to providing protection to British Jews.

And in Germany, the government created a new role of commissioner for fighting anti-Semitism, among other actions.

So why has this action and awareness failed to lower the flames of ant-Semitism?

To Weitzmann, the answer is in the conspiratorial sentiments that fan the flames of anti-Semitism in the first place.

“Government efforts to curb anti-Semitism fail precisely because they’re coming from the government, which anti-Semites believe is controlled by globalist Jews,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

Still, talk of a return of 1930s anti-Semitism to Europe is inaccurate, said Weitzmann, whose book about these issues, “Hate,” will be coming out next month.

“Back then, anti-Semitism was implemented from governments down,” Weitzmann said. “Today it’s the other way around: It’s rising from the base and governments are trying to stop it, although not very successfully.”

‘Never forget’ can’t apply to those who never even knew

Widespread Holocaust ignorance demands ramped up teaching with a focus on historical specifics, not moral platitudes


The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel)

Last year, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) released the findings from a survey in the United States. Conducted by Schoen Consulting, the survey shed light on critical gaps both in awareness of basic historical facts and detailed knowledge of the Holocaust amongst American adults, particularly young adults. The Azrieli Foundation and the Claims Conference recently commissioned Schoen Consulting to conduct a similar study across Canada. The results were equally alarming, showing that there are serious gaps of basic Holocaust-related knowledge in Canada too.

For example, more than half (54%) of those surveyed did not know that six million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust. Nearly half of the respondents could not name a single camp or ghetto in Europe at the time of World War II. Less than half (43%) of Canadian adults could identify Poland as one of the countries in which the Holocaust took place.

Beyond North America, a recent survey done by CNN on Holocaust awareness in Europe revealed similar and concerning results, while a survey released in Britain just a few weeks ago showed that 1 in 20 questioned whether the Holocaust took place at all.

These surveys highlight emerging trends that we have been monitoring for many years, and the findings raise existential questions: How can we uphold the promise of “Never Forget” if people have already forgotten – or perhaps never knew – important details? What are the reasons for this lack of knowledge and what can we do about it?

[I]t’s a slippery slope when the Holocaust is used as an example of the need to prevent bullying in school.

Finding answers requires that we grapple with several major global challenges.

First, the memory of the Holocaust is at risk due to attempts to distort Holocaust history. There are those who claim that the figure of six million Jewish deaths is an exaggeration. There are also intentional efforts to restrict discussion around people’s direct or indirect complicity and collaboration with the crimes of the Holocaust.

Secondly, there is an increased tendency to universalise the lessons around the Holocaust without historical context. An uninformed discussion of the Holocaust that draws parallels with other genocides may do more harm than good. Each must be understood in its own specific historical, political, socioeconomic and geographical context.

Trivialising the Holocaust to prove a point is equally irresponsible. “Don’t be a bystander” is often a lesson students extrapolate from hearing a Holocaust survivor speak. But it’s a slippery slope when the Holocaust is used as an example of the need to prevent bullying in school. The systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews remains incomparable to bullying.

Finally, “Never Forget” is oft-repeated, but perhaps it is unrealistic to think that generations that didn’t live through the devastation, and may never meet a Holocaust survivor, will indeed “remember” an experience when there is no personal connection.

How do we counter these challenges? One word: Education. Holocaust education needs to shift and adapt to our new realities.

Working with partners in over 60 countries, Yad Vashem has found that while many educators are interested in teaching the Holocaust, they are nervous to approach it. In countries where the Holocaust cast a shadow, or where national history is bound up in a different tragedy, educators can find themselves torn as to how to present the history of the Holocaust in light of the national narrative.

In Canada and other countries further from Europe, many teachers are overwhelmed by the enormity of the topic and the daunting task of creating relevance for today’s students, for whom the events of the Holocaust seem as far away as the French Revolution. Yet, across the globe, appropriation of Holocaust imagery and language is often found in current political debate and in traditional and social media, and as such, understanding the nuances of this history is key.

This is also true in Israel, where the Holocaust remains ever-present across public discourse as an emotionally-charged tenet fixed in the memory of so many; yet, simultaneously, there is often a gap between awareness and knowledge with the balance between the two remaining fragile.

The recent survey indicates that education cannot occur in a vacuum limited to commemoration.

Beyond attending ceremonies and other forms of commemoration, students need to learn the facts about the Holocaust. Educators must be equipped to explain the world that was lost, examine pre- and post-events (including the “return to life” of survivors) and analyze the unprecedented historical dimensions of the Holocaust in an age-appropriate manner.

The stories told personally and intimately from the perspective of those who lived through the Holocaust can have an impact on readers that history texts do not. Focusing on survivor stories can create empathy and engage students. But this approach, which is embedded within both Yad Vashem and the Azrieli Foundation’s educational philosophy, must be combined with solid teaching about their specific historical, geographical, sociological and political contexts.

In contrast to other historical periods studied in schools, the Holocaust has emerged as a discourse in which memory and narrative have outpaced history. To address this, we need to start with teachers. Through increased professional development, we can empower teachers by expanding their knowledge, and in turn encourage them to take an historical approach grounded in first-person accounts.

Seventy-four years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we must work to shift the focus of our efforts. Remembrance is not enough. Reflection is not enough. We must ensure that the promise of “Never Forget” is upheld for generations to come through comprehensive education.

Dr. Naomi Azrieli is the Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. Dr. Eyal Kaminka is the Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem and Lili Safra Chair for Holocaust Education. Both organizations are represented in their national delegations to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Poland’s envoy recognizes individual Holocaust crimes, firmly rejects complicity

Amid controversy over Nazi era, Marek Magierowski complains ‘little is known worldwide about what really occurred in German-occupied Poland’; notes diverging views with Yad Vashem


Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski poses for a picture in Jerusalem, October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski poses for a picture in Jerusalem, October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some Poles “committed abominable crimes” against Jews, Poland’s ambassador to Israel acknowledged this week, saying he had no problem admitting that Polish nationals were involved in anti-Semitic atrocities before, during and after World War II.

But in a far-ranging interview dealing with the whole breadth of bilateral relations between Poland and Israel — historical and political — Marek Magierowski also said that in addition to the need to remember the painful past, there was a “moral obligation to tell the whole truth.” For instance, he strongly rejected the term “Polish complicity,” arguing that it implies the country deliberately aided the Nazi regime in carrying out the Holocaust.

“It insinuates that Poland was consciously and willingly collaborating with Germany in the extermination of the European Jewry. No, it was not,” he insisted.

During the war, six million Polish citizens died — half of them Jews, the ambassador noted — and the country’s cities and villages were destroyed. “Poland was devastated. This is the not-so-unimportant context that is too frequently missing from the spectacular headlines about the alleged ‘Polish complicity,’” Magierowski, 48, said.

“And yes, some of my fellow countrymen committed abominable crimes against their Jewish brethren — before, during and after the war. I have no reservations in saying that they were Poles. Not ‘bandits,’ not ‘criminals,’ not ‘non-Jewish neighbors.’ No need to conceal their nationality. They were Polish, they spoke Polish, they were born in Poland.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks during commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Kielce, Poland, Monday, July 4, 2016. (AP Photo/ Czarek Sokolowski)

And they “excluded themselves from Polish society,” he added, citing a speech Polish President Andrzej Duda delivered two years ago at an event commemorating the 1946 Kielce pogrom, during which Poles killed 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors.

Historians estimate that between 1,000 and 2,000 Jews were killed by Poles in the aftermath of World War II.

The role of Poles during the Holocaust has been a major sticking point in Israeli ties with Poland, after the Polish government passed a law last year prohibiting blaming the Polish nation for the atrocities.

The law was heavily criticized in Israel and elsewhere, leading Warsaw to amend it so that such claims are no longer a crime punishable by prison. Israel and Poland also subsequently issued a joint declaration that many Israeli historians condemned as inaccurately adopting Poland’s narrative of the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivors protesting Poland’s new bill on Holocaust rhetoric in front of the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2018. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images/via JTA)

For instance, the statement condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during…World War II,” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.”

Critics said the wording downplays anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Poles while overstating the role of Poles who rescued Jews.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center recognizes 6,863 Poles as Righteous Among the Nations, the highest number among any nation. Historians debate how many Poles aided the Nazi death machine during World War II, with estimates ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

Magierowski, who started his term as Poland’s envoy to Tel Aviv last August, did not respond directly when asked if he disputes Yad Vashem’s assertion that “at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Polish Jews perished during the war due to actions of their Polish neighbors.”

But he did express “boundless” appreciation for Yad Vashem, stressing the need to “work together to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.” At the same time, he acknowledged “diverging views we may have on several issues regarding historical research” and “differing narratives.”

Auschwitz survivor Miroslaw Celka after paying tribute to fallen comrades at the ‘death wall’ execution spot in the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp on January 27, 2015. (AFP/Odd Andersen)

The joint declaration, issued simultaneously by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, on June 27, 2018, also rejected, in the same paragraph, both anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

Some opponents of the statement argued that the juxtaposition appeared to equate the two phenomena, a claim Magierowski rejected.

“There is no intention to draw a parallel between anti-Semitism and anti-Polonism,” he said. “Nonetheless we cannot turn a blind eye to the anti-Polish commentaries, statements and even unsavory jokes, based solely on ethnic prejudices.”

Magierowski, who speaks fluent Hebrew, also addressed at great length the increasingly warm political and diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Warsaw, calling Israel “one of our most important partners in the Middle East.”

At the same time, he said Poland currently has no plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem, because “we cherish our international credibility.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski on the day Israel and Poland announced a joint declaration about the Holocaust in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Netanyahu is set to travel to Warsaw on Tuesday to attend the government’s so-called “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” a conference expected to deal heavily with Iran. Magierowski said the summit is “definitely not anti-Iranian,” but rather a “serious, global initiative aimed at reviving the moribund talks about the future of the Middle East.”

Next week, Morawiecki is due in Israel to attend a meeting of the so-called Visegrad Group, a consortium of four Central European nations. Netanyahu is working to strengthen ties with the group because he believes it can help fight what he considers the European Union’s unfair policies toward Israel.

“My personal view is that Poland perhaps understands Israel’s sensitivities a little better than some of our partners in the EU,” Magierowski said.

Asked if Warsaw recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, the ambassador replied that Poland recognizes Israel “as a state, within its internationally acknowledged borders,” adding that it was up to Israelis to define their own state.

Magierowski was born in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, a small town in southwestern Poland that was part of Germany until 1945. He worked as a journalist for most of his adult life, until he became President Duda’s spokesperson in 2015. Two years later, he quit to become deputy foreign minister, a position he held until the summer of 2018, when he moved to Tel Aviv.

Following is a transcript of our interview, which was conducted via email, lightly edited for clarity.

The Times of Israel: Prime Minister Netanyahu is headed to Poland on Tuesday; Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki is scheduled to visit Israel next week, in the framework of the V4 Summit. It seems we’re currently witnessing springtime for Israel-Poland relations. What’s the reason for this blooming of bilateral diplomatic relations?

Marek Magierowski: Let’s leave diplomacy aside for a while. First of all, it’s about people. Thousands of Israeli tourists visiting Poland, thousands of Poles landing at Ben Gurion, day in, day out. Nearly 40 direct flight connections between major Polish cities and Israel. A 90 percent increase of the number of Polish visitors in Israel, an 80 percent increase of the number of Israeli tourists in Warsaw, Kracow, Gdańsk…

I have worked here as ambassador for seven months now and I have yet to meet someone who has not been to Poland recently, for a holiday or on a business trip. And all talk about Poland highly: it’s safe, friendly, modern. Israelis appreciate high living standards and excellent food. Many are truly bewildered: “I expected a drab, post-communist, gray landscape. And suddenly I encountered a Western country in Eastern Europe.”

View of Old Town in Krakow, Poland, August 15, 2018. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)

Now, fast forward to old school diplomacy. Last year you celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. So many of Israel’s founding fathers spoke Polish (also to each other!), so many Polish Jews — most of them Holocaust survivors and their descendants ­– were instrumental in the social and economic development of your country.

And, conversely, it’s impossible to talk about Polish history, Polish culture, without mentioning the invaluable contribution of Jewish writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, politicians.

That’s why our bilateral relations are so vital. Israel is, quite obviously, one of our most important partners in the Middle East, for political, economic and historical reasons. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the unwavering support for the very existence of the State of Israel is one of the pillars of Poland’s policy in the Middle East. As is its relentless combat against terrorism.

Incoming Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski, left, with President Rivlin in Jerusalem, August 2, 2018 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

We also share the same ironclad alliance with the United States. The political and military cooperation between the US, Poland and Israel is of utmost relevance to us.

There’s another intriguing parallel: the astonishing economic growth of both Poland and Israel over the last three decades. Polish startups and young entrepreneurs are seeking new opportunities in the Israeli market. Israeli companies have heavily invested in Poland, mostly in real estate, the retail sector and high-tech, lured by the stable business environment and highly educated workforce. No wonder that all those flights between Poland and Tel Aviv are fully booked…

Netanyahu is traveling to Warsaw in order to attend the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East. This conference is said to focus mainly on criticizing Iran and on strategizing against it. Why did Poland choose to organize a conference focused on attacking Iran, something that pleases Israel and the US but not so much your European neighbors?

Firstly, the event will not focus on a particular country but the whole region and the challenges it is facing, be it civil wars, terrorism, energy or cybersecurity. So the nature of the upcoming conference is, in our view, definitely not anti-Iranian.

By the way, we have excellent relations with the US, although we support the JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal] and the Americans withdrew from it. And it was a Polish deputy foreign minister who traveled to Tehran to explain to the Iranians what the conference will actually be about.

Secondly, the summit is not about “pleasing” this or that country. It is not about empty slogans and hollow promises. It is a serious, global initiative aimed at reviving the moribund talks about the future of the Middle East, probably the most volatile region of the world.

We co-organize this conference not in spite, but — precisely — because of our EU membership, our special relationship with the United States and our good relations with most Arab countries, which we have nurtured for decades. Poland is simply the most appropriate host in terms of diplomatic convenience.

Poland perhaps understands Israel’s sensitivities a little better than some of our partners in the EU

Thirdly, the primary objective is to assemble all the pivotal actors in one place and kickstart a process in which everybody would hold a stake. Peace and stability in the Middle East are our common responsibility. It is about time to put all hands on deck.

We can’t solve the regional problems with the European Union and without President Trump. But we also cannot solve the same problems with Trump and without the key players from all over the world.

Will the Israeli-Palestinian conflict play any role at the conference, and if so, in what way?

We are not entitled to restrain participants from touching upon a particular topic, but we do not intend to focus on the Middle East peace process at the Ministerial. There are other international fora dedicated to this important issue.

Polish then-foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, right, talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during their meeting in Warsaw, May 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

What are Poland’s positions on the core issues of the conflict: settlements, Jerusalem, security? Would Poland consider moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem even before a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is signed? The US and Guatemala recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Russia, the Czech Republic and Australia have recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. What’s Poland’s stance?

Very briefly: in this respect, we stick to international law. As an EU member state and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, we have our commitments and, like I said before, we cherish our international credibility. Therefore, the relocation of the Polish embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not being contemplated right now, surely not before the status of Jerusalem is finally defined.

Does Poland recognize Israel as a Jewish state (as Germany, the US and other states have done?)

Poland recognizes Israel as a state, within its internationally acknowledged borders. How the Israelis define their own state — it is up to you.

Netanyahu has made no secret of his desire to get closer to Eastern and Central European nations to subvert what he describes as the EU’s “hostile” attitude toward Israel. How do you view Warsaw’s role vis-a-vis Israel-EU relations? Would you agree to let Netanyahu instrumentalize warming bilateral Israel-Poland ties to improve his country’s standing in Brussels?

All EU member states run their own foreign policies, even though there is coordination in multiple areas. Besides, several different formats exist within the European community — V4 being one of them. It is no secret that some Western governments have a “cooler” approach to the Israeli government and Mr. Netanyahu himself.

My personal view is that Poland perhaps understands Israel’s sensitivities a little better than some of our partners in the EU. However, the warming bilateral ties with Israel do not necessarily jeopardize our relations with other EU countries.

PM Netanyahu and the leaders of the Visegrad Group — Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland — in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

One of the most controversial topics in Israel-Poland ties was last year’s joint statement on Poland’s role in the Holocaust. How do you respond to the harsh criticism Yad Vashem (and senior Holocaust historians) issued of the statement? Is Yad Vashem’s understanding of what happened during the Holocaust flawed?

The Polish embassy cooperates with Yad Vashem on a regular basis. My appreciation for this institution and its research efforts is boundless. On the other hand, the Yad Vashem historians also realize how important Poland and the Polish contribution is in the wider context of their commendable endeavor, particularly in terms of managing the archives and sharing the scholarly expertise.

Notwithstanding the diverging views we may have on several issues regarding historical research, despite the differing narratives, I strongly believe it is our common duty to overcome the discrepancies and work together to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.

Why did the Polish government make such great efforts to promulgate this document, translating it into several languages and publishing it in newspapers across the globe?

Every Polish government, regardless of its political leanings, has the duty to combat stereotypes and plain lies about Poland’s role in World War II. It is really puzzling how little is known worldwide about what really occurred in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust.

The infamous term “Polish death camps” is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me give you an example of another blatant semantic distortion. “Germans” are no longer “Germans.” They are “Nazis.” Unless you read a story about, say, a “German woman who rescued a Jewish family.”

Whereas when you read about Poles who collaborated with the German occupiers and denounced Jews, they are invariably “Poles.” Unless you read a story about a Pole who rescued a Jewish family. Then this Pole, quite mysteriously, becomes… “a non-Jewish neighbor.” It’s a gross manipulation.

An ad with the Israeli-Polish joint declaration on the Holocaust in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, July 4, 2018 (courtesy)

Israeli historians took particular offense to the joint declaration seemingly downplaying Polish complicity in Nazi crimes and equating anti-Semitism with “anti-Polonism.” In hindsight, can you understand their criticism? Or do you maintain that the joint declaration correctly juxtaposes those two terms?

Let me quote one of the paragraphs of said declaration: “It is obvious that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime, committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish nation, including all Poles of Jewish origin. Poland has always expressed the highest understanding of the significance of the Holocaust as the most tragic part of the Jewish national experience.”

The Holocaust was unique and incomparable to any other genocide in the history of mankind. As is anti-Semitism —  an unacceptable, abhorrent attitude that we should do our utmost to eradicate. There is no intention to draw a parallel between anti-Semitism and anti-Polonism.

Nonetheless we cannot turn a blind eye to the anti-Polish commentaries, statements and even unsavory jokes based solely on ethnic prejudices.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks to six Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Warsaw, Poland, February 26, 2018. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland makes great efforts to remember the Holocaust, but seems very keen on minimizing, if not entirely ignoring, Polish complicity in Nazi crimes. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this month, Polish officials issued statements hailing Polish people risking their lives to rescue Jews and highlighting the suffering of Poles at the hands of the Nazis, but making no mention whatsoever of Poles keenly aiding the Nazi death machineDo you dispute Yad Vashem’s assertion that “at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Polish Jews perished during the war due to actions of their Polish neighbors”? If so, how would you describe Polish complicity in Nazi crimes? Do you think it serves the memory of the Holocaust, and Polish-Jewish relations, to entirely ignore Polish complicity, as if there had been no such thing?

Firstly, let me quote again the Morawiecki-Netanyahu joint statement: “We acknowledge and condemn every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during World War II.” What does the Polish government try to hide here?

Secondly, I must strongly protest against the very term “Polish complicity.” It insinuates that Poland was consciously and willingly collaborating with Germany in the extermination of the European Jewry. No, it was not.

Poland was invaded and occupied — by Germany and the Soviet Union. Polish soldiers fought the Germans on all fronts. There was no Polish puppet government. No Polish [Vidkun] Quisling, no Polish [Phillipe] Petain. No Waffen-SS division composed of Polish nationals.

We must not forget the painful past, but it is also our moral obligation to tell the whole truth, no matter how complex, in all its aspects

We lost six million citizens, approximately half of them of Jewish descent. We lost cities, villages, infrastructure, artworks. Poland was devastated. This is the not-so-unimportant context that is too frequently missing from the spectacular headlines about the alleged “Polish complicity.”

And yes, some of my fellow countrymen committed abominable crimes against their Jewish brethren. Before, during and after the war. I have no reservations in saying that they were Poles. Not “bandits,” not “criminals,” not “non-Jewish neighbors.” No need to conceal their nationality. They were Polish, they spoke Polish, they were born in Poland.

And they “excluded themselves from the Polish society,” as Polish President Andrzej Duda once famously said [in a July 2016 speech], referring to the perpetrators of the pogrom in Kielce in 1946. We must not forget the painful past, but it is also our moral obligation to tell the whole truth, no matter how complex, in all its aspects.

The funerals for the dozens of Jews killed in a 1946 post-Holocaust pogrom in Kielce, Poland (screen capture: YouTube)

Two new Holocaust films depict tiny, true details to portray life under Nazis

The minutiae often omitted from the record is the focus of ‘Who Will Write Our History?,’ about Warsaw Ghetto’s Oyneg Shabes Archive, and ‘The Invisibles,’ both debuting this month

NEW YORK — I’ve never much cared for the phrase “The Chosen People.” It just strikes me as a little braggy. My preferred nickname has always been “People of the Book.” It sounds serious and studious, and lends itself to the type of interpretation you might find — with lengthy footnotes — in a very important book.

I’d like to think that early 20th century Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum had this double-meaning in mind when he first implored his colleagues, likewise trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto, to “get everything down on paper.” But as the remarkable film “Who Will Write Our History” shows, levity wasn’t exactly his top priority.

“No one appointed him,” historian Samuel D. Kassow says in this mesmerizing film that is half-documentary/half-reenactment. He just did it.

Ringelblum was working at the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the last remaining infrastructure for the enormous Jewish community in Warsaw prior to and during the time of the ghetto. There he was able to collect grand scale information concerning the movements of people, but also smaller stories of individual indignities that could easily slip through the cracks. Combined they form the true picture of Nazi atrocities and institutionalized anti-Semitism.

“Who Will Write Our History?” is an unusual movie. It is based on Kassow’s 2007 book of the same name, but director Roberta Grossman (and producer Nancy Spielberg, younger sister to Steven) mix talking head interviews, historical footage and “scenes” with actors, sets and high stakes drama. It’s not easy to thread this type of formalist needle, but Grossman maintains a level of urgency that is (and I hate describing movies about the Holocaust this way) quite entertaining. Ringelblum assembling his team is almost like a Shoah “Ocean’s 11.”

The Oyneg Shabes gatherings were somewhere between a a typical newsroom’s edit meetings and an emergency vigil. The Jewish community was shattering into pieces all around them, and they were furiously trying to put it back together again, just long enough to preserve a copy. When assignments were turned in they went to an archive, and while there were over 60 members of the group, very few knew where the materials were actually kept. (They can’t torture out information you don’t know.)

The importance of this material is evident. Without it, almost everything recorded about the Warsaw Ghetto came from the top down. German cameramen took German pictures. Propaganda films (included in this movie) positioned the Nazis as saviors to a Polish populace infested with conniving, thieving, dirty, lice-ridden Jews.

The materials collected for the archive are reports direct from beneath the boot of German abuse, and recorded in real time.

What sticks with me are the details. A snapshot of women forced to remove their underwear to use as rags to clean the street, then told to put them back on in the freezing cold is something that can only come from a witness, and it’s the type of thing that could, over time, dissolve into a more generic description (“they were terrible to us”) by someone who is trying to forget. Also shocking, was listening to the written reactions to the first reports of mass murders happening in camps outside the city.

Julia Lewenfisz-Gorka, Wojciech Zielinski, and Marta Ormaniec portraying Ora, Abraham and Luba Lewin in a Ghetto street scene. (Anna Wloch/ Courtesy)

There is also raw, true emotion of the kind that maybe seems like a hiccup in the overall narrative, such as the Jewish anger against the Jewish police who enforced German rules, even with a gun pointed at their head. The sequences in this film set during the mass deportation come in a fury; it is the 1940s version of “live blogging,” a camera-eye depiction from the middle of a nightmare.

There are also moments of reflection, even poetry. “It’s like a Hollywood movie out there, all you see are stars,” one journalist mused in reference to the Star of David armbands Jews were forced to wear.

One of Ringelblum’s aces was Rachel Auerbach, who would later hold a key position at Yad Vashem. She worked in the ghetto soup kitchen, where dilemmas such as “nourish one starving person enough that they might survive, or stretch the meager rations among 10 to string dying people along for another half-day?” were commonplace.

The firsthand specificity from the archive makes seemingly obvious points that, unless you lived through it, you might not think about. As an example, Ringleblum was lucky enough to live in the area that eventually became the ghetto. As such, he did not have to move — and was able to use his residence as a home base. People who came in from elsewhere in the city, or from the countryside, were frequently not given enough time to collect things of value. With nothing to sell for food, they were often the first to die.

Actor Jowita Budnik portrays Rachel Auerbach working at a soup kitchen. (Anna Wloch/ Courtesy)

That this movie exists at all is something of a miracle. All but three of the Oyneg Shabes group were killed, and only two knew where to look for the materials. The first cache was found in the Warsaw rubble right after the war. The second in 1950.

There’s a third still out there somewhere, believed to be under the Chinese Embassy. You’d think the Polish government would figure out the logistics to look for it, especially considering that the film ends with a card stating that only three document collections from Poland are in UNESCO’s Memory of the World collection: the music of Chopin, the scientific work of Copernicus and the Oyneg Shabes Archive.

Interestingly enough, the same month “Who Will Write Our History” makes its US debut (and also at New York’s Quad Cinemas), there’s another film with similar themes and technique. Claus Räfle’s “The Invisibles” moves from Warsaw to Berlin, to detail the lives of four individuals who hid in plain sight during the entirety of the war.

It’s another example of how individuals are easily overwhelmed by outside forces. There are plenty of Germans who want to help their Jewish neighbors, but each have different breaking points for the amount of risk they can take.

A still from Claus Räfle’s ‘The Invisibles.’ (Courtesy)

One clever Jew uses a list of apartments known to have spare rooms for young men about to get “called up.” He bounces from place to place until he can find something more secure. On the other side of this, a woman with safe shelter stays as long as she can until her host is discovered by the agency that assigns rooms for those that have been bombed-out. After this she ends up a servant in a Nazi officer’s home, never quite sure if he knows her true identity.

Unfortunately, Räfle’s film lacks the focus of Grossman’s (and is extremely repetitive) but is most interesting, again, when it gets into the minutiae of just how someone could survive the war in a city that Joseph Goebbels boasted was finally Judenrein.

A still from Claus Räfle’s ‘The Invisibles.’ (Courtesy)

One woman, Hanni Levy, found safe houses when she could, but much of the time she did something so obvious it sounds like a joke. She just … walked around. For months at a time, with dyed blonde hair and no yellow star on her clothing, she roamed the Berlin streets, ducked into movie theaters, stayed in parks, kept her head down and maintained hope.

Levi is still with us at age 94, and living in Germany. So for her, at least, hope and luck somehow were enough. Neither “The Invisibles” nor “Who Will Write Our History” are naive enough to suggest that, most people would find such a miracle.

“Who Will Write Our History” will be screening in these North American, European and Israeli cinemas starting January 18. “The Invisibles” will show at New York City’s Quad Cinemas and Landmark 57 West, and at Los Angeles’ Royal starting January 25.

Jewish restaurant owner injured, restaurant vandalized during German neo-Nazi riots

Schalom restaurant Germany

Uwe Dziuballa, owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, Germany, talks to a journalist about the vandalism at his restaurant, Sept. 8, 2018. The attack took place two weeks earlier. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — An attack on a Jewish restaurant and its owner during last month’s riots in an east German city went unreported by law enforcement for several days, fueling anger by Jewish groups.

During anti-migrant demonstrations  in Chemnitz that turned violent on Aug. 27, about 12 masked neo-Nazis injured Uwe Dziuballa and vandalized his Schalom restaurant, according to Die Welt newspaper.

The attackers allegedly threw stones, bottles and a sawed-off steel pipe at Dziuballa and shouted, “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig.” A window in the restaurant was broken and Dziuballa was injured when a stone hit his shoulder.

Dziuballa has filed charges, according to the State Criminal Investigation Office in Saxony.

He said the police arrived on the scene quickly after he called them, but took a few days to secure evidence and record damage. Police confirmed the incident on Sept. 6; the local news media already had reported on it.

The Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism learned of the attack on Sept. 5 through the media reports and obtained photographs of alleged attackers dressed in black in front of the establishment.

Germany’s new commissioner against anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, told the newspaper that the incident appeared to represent a turn for the worse in anti-Semitic crimes.

“It is reminiscent of our worst recollections of the 1930s,” Klein said.

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Munich and Bavaria, said in a statement on the eve of the Jewish New Year that the violent anti-migrant demonstrations in Chemnitz were already a wake-up call for the government and society.

“The fact that there was also a violent attack on the restaurant Schalom and its owner is shocking and underscores the urgency of resolute action against anti-democratic forces,” said Knobloch, who survived the Holocaust in hiding with a Christian family in Germany.

Dziuballa told die Welt he has often been subjected to anti-Semitic incidents, such as having swastikas painted on his storefront and pig heads left at the door. He nevertheless continues to keep the restaurant open.

Levi Salomon, the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism speaker, said in a statement that it was “outrageous that a masked mob in Chemnitz is attacking the city’s only Jewish restaurant, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, and we are not hearing about the case until days later.”

The group said the Saxony state office of criminal investigation assured it that “nothing was concealed” and did not always publicize individual cases under investigation.


70 years later, remains returned of Briton sent to Belsen for taking Nazi’s bike

Body of Frank Le Villio reinterred in ceremony in the Isle of Jersey

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mourners carry a casket holding the remains of Frank Le Villio during a reburial ceremony at a church in St. Helier, Jersey, on September 5, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The remains of a British man from Jersey who died following his imprisonment at a Nazi concentration camp were buried Wednesday near his home, over 70 years after he died.

Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, was occupied by Nazi forces from 1940 until the end of World War II.

Le Villio was sent to three different concentration camps during the war, including Bergen-Belsen in Germany, where some 200,000 people were taken. More than 52,000 camp inmates and 20,000 prisoners of war died there, among them the famous teenage diarist Anne Frank.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by British soldiers who found some 10,000 dead bodies when they entered the Nazi camp.

Though Le Villio survived, he died from tuberculosis in 1946 at 21 after returning to the United Kingdom and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at a cemetery in Nottingham, according to the BBC.

His remains were located in 2017 after being tracked down by Jersey resident Stanley Keiller, who was a boy at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands and took an interest in finding where Le Villio was buried.

“He was a young teenager who was taken away from us in those occupation years, and there’s a satisfaction in having found him,” the BBC quotedKeiller saying at the service Wednesday in St. Helier, near where Le Villio had lived.

Stan Hockley, A cousin of Le Villio’s who grew up with him, said the reburial was a “long, long journey.”

“The emphasis these days is on ‘forgive and forget.’ But those who say that — do they have relatives who were tortured and murdered, just for having an illicit ride on a bike?” Hockley said, according to The Daily Mail.