Category Archive: Together

US T-SHIRT COMPANY SELLS SWASTIKA DESIGN AS ‘SYMBOL OF LOVE AND PEACE’

NEW YORK – The US-based clothing website Teespring is selling T-shirts and sweatshirts branded with swastikas, aiming to make them a “symbol of love and peace.”

The designs, created by KA Designs and sold on the site, all display large swastikas in the front. One shows the Nazi-associated symbol in rainbow colors with the word “peace,” another one with the word “zen,” one reading “Love” and a third design, in black, shows a spiral of swastikas. They range in price from $20 to $35.

US T-shirt company sells swastika design as ‘symbol of love and peace.’(Screen Capture)US T-shirt company sells swastika design as ‘symbol of love and peace.’(Screen Capture)

“Here at KA we explore boundaries. We push them forward,” the company wrote as a description for the products. “Let’s make the swastika a symbol of Love and Peace. Together, we can succeed.”

Before being used by Hitler’s German Nazi regime, swastikas were commonly known as an ancient sign used by Hindus and Buddhists carrying positive associations such as auspiciousness and good fortune. KA Designs is attempting to revert the now negative sign to its origins.

The company even made a promotional video claiming that the Nazis “took the swastika, rotated it 45 degrees, and turned it into a symbol of hatred, fear, war, racism, power.”

“They stigmatized the swastika, they won, they limited our freedom, or maybe not?” the video continues. “The swastika is coming back.”

On some of the tee shirts sold by KA Designs, the swastika remains turned by 45 degrees, similarly to the Nazis’ use of the symbol.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress and pro-Israel activist Arsen Ostrovsky called the shirts “obscene and disgusting.”

“It may have been a symbol of peace,” he wrote. “That most certainly is not what it is primarily associated with today.”

Ostrovsky also pointed a finger at Teespring for seeking “to profit off of this in the name of art, trying to turn this irredeemable Nazi symbol of hate and murder into a symbol of ‘love and peace.’”

“They are not unique in this, however, with a disturbingly growing pattern in recent years of other clothing companies seeking to do similar,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “This is not only highly naïve, but grossly offensive. What’s next, using ISIS symbols to promote gender equality?”

“Hopefully management will understand the magnitude of their mistake and offense caused, and discontinue these items immediately,” Ostrovsky concluded.

Arsen Ostrovsky posts on Facebook against the “Peace with swastika” shirts. (Screen Capture) Arsen Ostrovsky posts on Facebook against the “Peace with swastika” shirts. (Screen Capture)
The issue has also been discussed online by the YouTube channel “The Open Debate.”

“When I initially saw it, I assumed that it was just a joke,” the person in the video said. “There are some things that just aren’t going to happen. When some people view this symbol, they don’t feel anything and can recognize it as whatever they’d like. For others, this symbol has a very deep history of hate, pain and suffering.”

How Anne Frank’s diary was very nearly lost forever

ugust 4, 1944. The Gestapo raided the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family were hiding and officer Karl Silberbauer grabbed father Otto Frank’s leather briefcase to transport the loot he found there.
That briefcase happened to be the hiding spot where Anne stashed her diary describing the two years the Franks, along with the Dussel family, spent in seclusion there at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.

After everyone was rounded up and the rooms emptied, Miep Gies, who helped hide the families in the annex above Otto’s spice company, collected the papers scattered on the floor and saved them for Anne’s return.

But it was not to be. The family was deported to Auschwitz, where Otto’s wife Edith perished. Daughters Margot and Anne later died in Bergen-Belsen. After the war, Miep turned the diary over to Otto, saying, “Here is your daughter Anne’s legacy to you.”

The story of how Anne had received the iconic red and white checkered diary from her parents on June 12, 1942 — her 13th birthday — is a famous one. Her first entry expressed the hope that she would be able to confide completely in her diary and that it would be a support and comfort.

She had only been writing in it as a free person for a few weeks before her sister Margot received a call to go to a labor camp in Germany causing the family to go into hiding. The diary became her record of growing up and of self-discovery, as well of understanding the complex world and the brutal war around her.

She named her diary Kitty, and, in hiding, entrusted it with her innermost thoughts.

An October 9, 1942 entry reads: “Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews… If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed.”

‘If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them?’
And on February 3, 1944, just months before Anne was arrested, she wrote: “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway. I’ll just let matters take their course and concentrate on studying, and hope that everything will be all right in the end.”

When the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January 1945, Otto Frank made the journey back to Amsterdam alone. Eva Schloss, then 15, and her mother Fritzi were on the same homeward bound trip. Eva’s father and brother had also been sent to Auschwitz, and later perished in Mauthausen.

Together, the survivors went to Odessa and then Marseilles before returning to Amsterdam in June 1945. Otto and Fritzi became firm friends and eventually married in 1953. Had Anne survived, she and Eva — born just a month apart — would have been step-sisters.
German-born Anne and Austrian-born Eva had in fact met when they were both 11-year-old immigrants taking refuge in Holland.

“We were very sociable. We lived in an apartment and so had no garden. Children played in the street every day after school,” Schloss told The Times of Israel.

Years later, when Schloss read Anne’s diary, she was astounded at the maturity of the young girl’s thinking.

“She wrote about feminism and politics. And she said you don’t have to wait till tomorrow to do good deeds and help people. She was really quite amazing for that age,” Schloss said.

Otto, who had been very close with Anne, was “astonished” at what he read, realizing he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought.

“It took Otto three weeks to read the diary,” said Schloss. “Then he copied it into German to send to his mother, who lived in Basel. He showed it to everybody.”

Over the next few months Otto and Fritzi met at her home to discuss the publication of the diary. In that traumatic post-war period where uncertainty about how to carry on was commonplace, they welcomed the distraction.

“They were relieved to talk about something else. Following the recent Dutch famine of 1944-1945, where many people had starved to death, there was a very depressing atmosphere in Holland,” said Schloss. “For Otto, the diary was a ray of sunshine and became his life. If not for the diary I would have wondered how he could have carried on with his life.”

But finding a publisher was not such a straightforward matter — until an article by Dutch historian Jan Romein in April 1946 appeared on the front page of Dutch newspaper Het Parool.

“To me, however, this apparently inconsequential diary by a child… stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence at Nuremberg put together,” Romein wrote.

Eventually, the Dutch publisher Contact produced the book “Anne Frank, Het Achterhuis,” translated as “The Secret Annex,” on June 25, 1947. Noted in Otto’s appointment book that day is the word: “Boek” (Book).

“If she had been here, Anne would have been so proud,” Otto later said.

The first edition, noted Schloss, wasn’t particularly successful because people weren’t in the mood to read more terrible things after all the suffering that had been endured in the war.

“Moreover, no one thought what a little girl writes about day-to-day would interest anyone,” she said.

Undeterred, Otto got in touch with foreign publishers, who had it translated. He tried to market the book in the United States, with little success, until Doubleday published the first English version entitled “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank. Judith Jones, the editor who rescued the diary from a rejection slush pile at Doubleday, died this week at age 93.

‘It was just as much as people could cope with then’
“The diary gave people an insight, without being too graphic. It was just as much as people could cope with then,” Schloss said.

In the spring of 1944, exiled Dutch education minister Gerrit Bolkestein appealed on Dutch radio for people to keep a written record about life during the Nazi occupation. On hearing this, Anne decided to rewrite her original diary with the hope it would be published after the war.

But neither she or anyone else could have ever predicted the overnight success it would garner once translated into English, five years after the 1947 Dutch version. Starting with a modest edition of 5,000 books, it was followed quickly by runs of 15,000 and then 45,000 copies.

Jewish author and war correspondent Meyer Levin’s New York Times review on June 15, 1952, was a game changer. Levin, a war correspondent in Europe, had been witness to the camps as they were liberated. He was among the first Americans to go into Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt.

Levin, it was reported, had first come across the French translation of the diary in a Paris bookshop in 1951, identifying with the writings of the “born writer” immediately.

“Hers was probably one of the bodies seen in the mass grave at Bergen-Belsen, for in August, 1944, the knock came on that hidden door in Amsterdam,” he wrote in his review. “…Because the diary was not written in retrospect, it contains the trembling life of every moment — Anne Frank’s voice becomes the voice of 6 million vanished Jewish souls.”

96-year-old ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ ruled fit to serve sentence

ormer Nazi SS guard known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” now 96, is fit to serve out his sentence, German prosecutors said Wednesday.

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Oskar Groening was found guilty in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murders of 300,000 people at the camp and sentenced to four years in prison.

“The prosecutor has rejected the application from the defense for a sentence suspension,” court spokeswoman Kathrin Soefker told AFP, confirming local media reports.

A summons for the start of the sentence has not been issued, she said, adding that the prosecutor will make a decision separately on this.
Groening’s lawyer Hans Holtermann said he would appeal the decision as soon as possible, arguing that the doctor named by prosecutors had not done a proper examination.

Groening has been living at home despite his conviction, and due to his old age, it has been unclear if he would actually be jailed.

But a court doctor has now determined that he is able to serve his sentence, on condition he is given appropriate nursing and medical care while in detention, said the spokeswoman.

Groening worked as an accountant at Auschwitz, sorting and counting the money taken from those killed or used as slave labour, and shipping it back to his Nazi superiors in Berlin.

One million European Jews died between 1940 and 1945 at Auschwitz before it was liberated by Soviet forces.

Austrian court convicts man who questioned gassing of Jews in WWII

VIENNA — An Austrian court has found a man who claimed the mass killings of Jews in gas chambers under Adolf Hitler was a story made up by Jews guilty of violating the country’s anti-Nazi laws and sentenced him to a suspended 12-month prison term.

Additionally, the man has been convicted of the crime of incitement for calling Muslims vermin. The court in the western city of Feldkirch ordered him Monday to pay a fine of 1,440 euros ($1,690).

Both statements were made on Facebook. In claiming that the mass gassings were fiction, the man said Jews made up the story to make Hitler look bad should he have won the war.

The 34-year old acknowledged the postings were his. He is not being identified in keeping with Austrian privacy laws.

Hungary for more

hat if I told you time-machines exist? In July, I had the incredible opportunity to time-travel to Budapest. Although, the year was 2017 there were many lessons, attractions, and new friendships that inspired a meaningful journey. The glamorous architecture throughout Budapest can inspire any visitor to see how important this city must have been as the joint capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Flowers bloomed throughout the country and the weather was perfect enough for biking. But, just as roses have thorns, this beautiful country has a thorny history as well.

Just down the street from my hotel, is the Dohany Street Synagogue, built in 1856. Theodore Herzl, the man behind the movement for Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, also known as Zionism, was born in that very location in 1860. It was both surreal and wonderful to stand at the site of his birthplace. The interior of the synagogue, which seats three thousand worshipers and is the second largest synagogue in the world, was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been in.

Before WW2 there were 830,000 Jews living in Hungary. 437,000 were murdered in just seven weeks in 1944 after the Nazi invasion of Hungary! During the war, some synagogues were used as concentration centers for the Hungarian Jews on the way to their deaths at Auschwitz. How tragically ironic that using a house of worship for mass murder or to assist in murder is what ultimately saved the Dohany Street synagogue! Now there are almost 100,000 Jews living in Hungary. I am sad to share that while the floors and walls may sparkle to its former glory, there is still a part of the renovation that has not been completed. Where are the people?

Touring the Jewish museum located adjacent to the Dohany Street Synagogue, I went to sign my name in the guest book. I was shocked to see written in it, “The Holocaust is a lie. Europa Erwache!” (This translates to “Europe awaken” in German.) How could I be reading such a message in 2017?

The Szeged synagogue was another stunning place of worship in Hungary. Similar to the Dohaney street synagogue it was vast. Pre WWII, it accommodated 1,500 worshipers (a quarter of the population of the city.) Today, 30 Jews reside in the city. Initially, I was disappointed. I had traveled three hours from Budapest, to discover the synagogue was closed to the public. I was impressed to learn the Hungarian government was financing the refurbishment of the exterior.

Fortunately, I was able to get inside The Szeged Synagogue and met Christina, a guide for the property. The interior was falling apart from lack of financial support. Despite the dusty and faded insides, it was still breathtakingly beautiful. I was in awe of how large the stained glass windows were throughout the synagogue. It was an incredible experience to listen to Christina translate the Hungarian inscription on the ceiling, as my Israeli friend translated it into Hebrew. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” was the focal point of the synagogue.

What an incredible manifestation of this religious tolerance and understanding as Christina, who is Christian explained to my Jewish friend and me that mostly non-Jewish groups visit the synagogue. She not only had the original key to the gates of the synagogue, but her life experiences of studying Jewish religion and history as a non-Jew have given me cause to not judge other Europeans based on the hate inscribed in the guest book the day before. People like her are the keys to a better future.

I was privileged to see many beautiful synagogues, memorials, and graves in Hungary. Raoul Wallenberg was a Righteous Gentile who I felt particularly attached to on this trip. During WW2, as a non-Jewish neutral Swedish diplomat, he forged papers alongside other diplomats to save tens of thousands of Jews from death. He distributed Swedish paperwork, even as some Jews were on the train about to leave the station for death camps! Unfortunately, he was later imprisoned and probably killed by the Soviet authorities.

Who knew after following his very footsteps, that I would end up dancing in a Budapest nightclub with a granddaughter of someone he saved? This is what I mean when I say traveling is just like boarding a time-machine.

I visited the “shoe memorial” on the Danube river bank a day before the state visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Assorted bronzed shoes are arranged where thousands of Jews in the closing weeks of WW2, were forced to take off their shoes by the Hungarian Fascist Iron Cross, before being shot into the river. Some of the Jews were tied together, and only one person was shot to conserve bullets as all the victims drowned.

As I observed Jews, Muslims, and Christians from all over the world exploring the site, I was instilled with hope, in spite of hate incidents against all of our communities being higher in the United States and throughout the globe than they have ever been. I was especially moved to see where someone had attached an Israeli flag to one of the shoes. Though the beautiful view of the riverbank and the Hungarian Parliament building remain the same, the flag symbolizes shoes that could have belonged to me 72 years ago. “There but for the grace of God go I.” As long as we have a strong Jewish state, Jews will never again be so helpless.

This is Part 1 of 2 articles describing my experiences in Budapest during July 2017.

Rayna Rose Exelbierd is the StandWithUs Southeast High School Coordinator. SWU is a 16-year-old international Israel education organization with offices throughout the US, in Israel, Canada and the UK.

Should ‘Harry Potter’ Be Included in the Canon of Holocaust Literature?

In the summer of 1997, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first published by Bloomsbury Publishing. In the 20 years since, Harry Potter has become a cultural phenomenon beyond compare. It is an identity marker, an organizing force raising millions of dollars for good causes, a way to process difficult times and a beloved classic. And Harry Potter might just be the book that our children will use to understand the Holocaust. Let me explain this strange-sounding claim.

I started reading Harry Potter secretly; secretly because I was attempting to maintain a perception of sixth-grade “cool.” Three weeks and three books later, I gave up the pretense and became a full-blown fan. When I got to college, Harry Potter books in tow, I became deeply invested in the study of the Holocaust, and at the time I couldn’t tell you why. I took class after class about comparative genocide, Holocaust literature and representation, and modern Europe, and throughout it all, I relied heavily on the lessons of Harry, Hermione, and Ron to grapple with the confusion, the horror, and the trauma that came with my studies.

The Harry Potter series also helped me ask questions I wouldn’t have been prepared to ask otherwise. I had a fortunate childhood; I’d never lost a loved one and I experienced very little physical discomfort. But I had lost Cedric and Sirius and Dumbledore and Fred. I had walked alongside Harry as he struggled with PTSD. And I saw how easy it was for Cornelius Fudge to turn his eyes away from the truth. When I look back, it is clear that Harry Potter wasn’t just a tool at the time for comfort or reflection; it was what compelled me to study the Holocaust in the first place.

It is a daunting task for children to grasp both the miracles of survival and the horrors of suffering that occurred during the Holocaust. When they hear stories of survivors, how can they imagine the dark reality without becoming traumatized themselves? The fantasy elements of Harry Potter can give children a framework to safely encounter the twisted absurdity they inherit, whether directly or not. Consider the moment in the final book of the Harry Potter series, when the famous trio has to go deep into the belly of the wizarding bank, Gringotts. When they get down there, to rob a vault to save the world, they see that the vault is guarded by a blinded, beaten, and chained dragon. To avoid getting caught by bank guards, they break the chains of the dragon who moments before was trying to kill them and ride on its back to safety. Once free, the three must jump off of the blind dragon’s back into a lake, afraid that if the dragon notices that they have used it, it will turn on them. What a powerful allegory to prime kids for the absurdity of Kapos, of imprisonment, of the torture required to demean a living being into subservience, and the dangers around freedom.

Even within its fantasy world, the Harry Potter series does not shy away from depicting the specifics of suffering, which provide a window into the all-too-real material damage that was the Holocaust. Again, in the final book, Harry and his friends are caught after being hunted by the Death Eaters (i.e., Nazis). They are taken to a basement and separated. Hermione, who, according to the Death Eaters, has “dirty blood,” is tortured for information at the hands of a “pureblood” woman. We hear Hermione’s screams and we hear the screams of her loved ones as they have to listen to her being tortured, helpless.

There are dozens of scenes like this in the series. In which Harry has to engrave “I shall not tell lies” into his own hand again and again because of a demented administrator. Allies die, ears get slashed off, and children get murdered by adults who mock them as they kill. The combination of the fantastical and the specific horrors meet children where they are to help them understand the insanity of oppression and the reality of trauma.

Another challenge for children when learning about the Holocaust is the need to come to terms with the human capacity for evil. There is no one personification of evil in Harry Potter, and this rich text provides a safe space for difficult conversations about the actions and intentions of those who participated in the violence of the Holocaust, whether it be members of the Einsatzgruppen, Adolf Eichmann, or the citizens who kept silent as their neighbors vanished.

Voldemort is the purest representation of evil in the series; even very young children can understand the evil of Voldemort. When he is introduced in book one, he isn’t even in human form. He is a half-thing. A demonic possession of a small, cowardly man. But over time, book by book, evil is presented in more complicated and nuanced ways.

Consider the Horcrux. To create a Horcrux (a piece of a soul that has been split in order to attempt immortality), Voldemort must commit murder, and the evil of the act lingers physically. It forever alters the world, and nobody is immune to it. In book two, Ginny Weasley is complicit in attacks on students because of her emotional attachment to one of these Horcruxes. And in book seven, Ron Weasley abandons his friends and their mission out of the jealousy and anger caused by the weight of wearing another Horcrux. These two characters, who grew up in a caring home with strong values, and who have never had any personal encounters with Voldemort, are still vulnerable to the effects of the evil caused by Voldemort and can fall into a state of hate and fear instead of love and forgiveness.

Similarly, the death of Cedric Diggory is a crucial marker in the series and helps readers understand the prevalence of evil. At the end of book four, Harry and Cedric Diggory find themselves standing in a dark and unfamiliar graveyard after they’ve fought their way through the last trial of the Triwizard tournament, a maze turned sinister as the champions began to turn on each other. Then suddenly, as they begin to get their bearings, the scene is shot through with a cold voice saying, “Kill the spare.”

Up until this point, the fear and evil in Harry’s life have been personal and straightforward. But the casual violence of the Killing Curse is a brazen revelation of the banality of evil. Evil can be lazy, evil can be careless, evil can be routine. And it is unclear whom to hold accountable for this act. Is it Voldemort for giving the unfeeling order? Is it the man acting on the order? Is it the Death Eaters, as they arrive and say nothing of the dead boy near their feet? Is it the foot soldier who intricately designed the moments that led Cedric to this place? They are all culpable.

Evil is not always flashy or easy to recognize; it often comes from several sources in several forms, and it has permanent effects on the world we live in. But within Harry’s story, there is also hope that if we as humans all have the capacity for evil, what a wonderful act of defiance when we cultivate love instead.

We are at a crossroads in the history of the Holocaust. As the last survivors perish, we are losing a direct link to their witnessing of the horror, the miracles, the fear, the death, the stories of endurance and of moments of incredible humanity. We must and will continue to tell their stories.

But we want to be sure we are passing on more than trauma, coping mechanisms, and numbers. Including Harry Potter in the Holocaust literature canon seems like a thoughtful choice that can aid in purposes as diverse as the readers who engage with the texts, and which helps us think about the survivors who are no longer with us. The Harry Potter books are full of ghosts. Harry is joined by the dead at various points on his journey and they provide guidance, comfort, and strength. In fact, there is a line at the very end of the series, in reference to four of these ghosts, that “their presence was his courage.” Let us invite this next generation to honor and gain courage from our ghosts by sending them on a journey with Harry Potter, a boy plagued by generational trauma who rises and fights evil on his own terms. Perhaps, if we let them, the Harry Potter books can teach us how to live with, and learn from, our ghosts.

Yiddish comes alive in Warsaw every summer

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — When Gołda Tencer, the director of the Shalom Foundation and the Jewish Theater in Warsaw, lit the Sabbath candles last Friday, she was accompanied by dozens of people from various countries. Though their mother tongues differed, the voices at the table were united by a common language: Yiddish.

The assembled crowd of about 60 had come to this capital city for three weeks in July to study Yiddish, learn its grammar, sing songs and discover something about Jewish-Polish history.

The International Seminar in Yiddish Language and Culture, which Tencer founded, is now in its 15th year. Classes are held in Muranów, a district that was once heavily Jewish and where the Warsaw Ghetto was established. It was here, during World War II, that Emanuel Ringelblum hid his archive that contained thousands of Yiddish documents about the extermination of Jews. And it is here that the seminar seeks to build upon the rich legacy of the Yiddish-speaking world.

Through the program Tencer, who also established Warsaw’s Center for Yiddish Culture 20 years ago, seeks to help pass on the immense heritage of Yiddish culture.

“The nation died, but culture and Jewish literature did not perish,” said Tencer, who grew up in Lodz. “Our duty is to pass this thread of our Jewishness.”

Among the seminar participants is Barbara Szeliga, an actress who worked at the Jewish Theater for more than 30 years. When she began acting, the theater’s productions were only in Yiddish.

“I had to learn the language to know what I was playing,” she said.

ARGENTINA DELIVERS THOUSANDS OF WWII-ERA DOCUMENTS TO US HOLOCAUST MUSEUM

BUENOS AIRES — The Argentine Foreign Ministry delivered a series of documents about World War II, some of them related to Nazi war criminals, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The digital copies of the documents delivered are mainly letters, telegrams, newspaper articles, notes and reports, totaling almost 40,000 documents. An agreement for this transfer was signed on Friday in Buenos Aires between Argentina´s Secretary of International Cooperation Ernesto Gaspari and USHMM representative Samanta Casareto.

Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced the 38,779 documents between 1939 and 1950.

Among the documents are the communications between Argentina and countries involved in the war, as well as information sent by the Argentinean embassy in Germany. Some documents also record a meeting of chancellors in 1944.

Argentina was a refuge for Nazis after World War II. Adolf Eichmann was captured in the northern area of Buenos Aires in 1960; another Nazi war criminal, Erich Priebke, also lived there.

The primary South American destination for Holocaust survivors was also Argentina, which became home to at least 4,800 Holocaust survivors. Others settled in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica.

Nazi criminals’ presence in Argentina was recently in the news after a trove of Nazi objects discovered earlier this month by the Argentine Federal Police has been evaluated as “unprecedented” and “the biggest” discovery of its type. Now a judiciary investigation is underway to confirm their origins and how they arrived in Argentina.