Category Archive: Together

‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, 96, loses appeal against jail

Court rejects claim imprisonment would violate ‘right to life’ for ex-Nazi SS guard Oskar Groening, an accessory to 300,000 murders


This photo taken on July 1, 2015 shows defendant and German former SS officer Oskar Groening, dubbed the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, at court in Lueneburg, northern Germany, ahead of his trial. (2017. / AFP PHOTO / RONNY HARTMANN)

BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — A former Nazi SS guard known as the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz, 96, lost his final legal challenge against being jailed when Germany’s highest court Friday rejected his appeal.

In one of the last cases against a surviving Nazi, Oskar Groening was found guilty in July 2015 of being an accessory to the murders of 300,000 people at the death camp.

Groening has been living at home despite the conviction as his defense team mounted an appeal against his four-year jail sentence, arguing that imprisonment at such a high age would violate his “right to life.”

But Germany’s Constitutional Court on Friday said Groening’s “complaint against the refusal to postpone the execution of the prison sentence was unsuccessful.”

Former SS guard Oskar Groening sits behind a fence during a break in the trial against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Markus Schreiber/AP)

It found that appropriate health care could be provided in prison and that “if there are any adverse changes in health during imprisonment, the jail term can be interrupted.”

“The high age of the applicant is in itself not sufficient to refrain from enforcing the criminal penalty,” said the court.

The court also stressed that Groening has been found guilty of “complicity in murder in 300,000 cases, something that lends particular weight to the enforcement of the punishment.”

Killing machine

More than one million European Jews were killed at Auschwitz before it was liberated by Soviet forces.

Yet of the camp’s 6,500 SS personnel who survived the war, fewer than 50 were ever convicted.

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.

He was also on several occasions assigned to “ramp duty,” processing deportees as they arrived by rail in cattle cars.

During his trial, Groening acknowledged “moral guilt” but said it was up to the court to rule on his legal culpability.

He had previously been cleared by German authorities after lengthy criminal probes dating back to the 1970s. But a case was reopened against him after the legal basis for prosecuting former Nazis changed in 2011 with Germany’s landmark conviction of John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk, a former death camp guard, was sentenced not for atrocities he was known to have personally committed, but on the basis that he worked at the Sobibor camp in occupied Poland and had thus been a cog in the Nazis’ killing machine.

Demjanjuk died in 2012 before his appeal could be heard, but that verdict spurred new investigations against several elderly former Nazis.

Among a handful of convictions since has been that of Reinhold Hanning, found guilty of complicity in the mass murders at Auschwitz. He died aged 95 this year, before he could serve his jail term.

A case against former SS medic Hubert Zafke collapsed in September after the court found that the 96-year-old was unfit to stand trial.


When history clashes with politics in Poland

My good friend Dr. Sławomir “Sławek” Debski is an honorable and intelligent man who has made significant contributions to the cause of Polish diplomacy and to deepening ties between Poland and Israel. At the end of November, the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM), over which he so ably presides, hosted a delegation of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) for our third bilateral conference. We were especially honored to have had Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński with us to deliver the keynote speech at the opening session. His strong expression of support for Israel and condemnation of anti-Semitism were well received. The event in Warsaw was held just a month after the Polish Air Force took part in an international exercise in the skies over the Negev, itself telling evidence of the state of relations between our two countries. We are looking forward to the pleasure of welcoming our Polish colleagues and friends next year in Jerusalem.

That Sławek felt compelled to wade into the debate on Polish–Israeli/Jewish relations does not surprise me. He is doing his job as he understands it. The thrust of his article however, concerns not the historical facts themselves (to which we will shall return in a moment), but rather the place of memory and history in the burgeoning ties between Warsaw and Jerusalem. Poland is one of Israel’s staunchest friends in Europe. That relationship is manifested in myriad fields, and can fairly be called “unique.” It exists in the shadow of a 1000-year story of cohabitation, when Jews and Poles lived on the same soil, “together but apart.” Polish-Jewish history is punctuated by moments of uplifting triumph, and inspiring acts of heroism and brotherhood, but also of agonizing tragedy and acts of appalling violence and depravity. For many centuries, Poland, the “Polin” of lore, was the mighty citadel of the Jewish Diaspora and the epicenter Jewish creativity and spirituality. Though Poland was home to many of the Jewish people’s most outstanding luminaries, and the birthplace of a disproportionate share of the heroes of the Zionist pantheon, there is no denying that in Jewish minds, the totality of that history is all too often reduced to its most calamitous chapter — World War II and the Shoah — as well as to the pathology of local anti-Semitism.

Sławek suggests that those who speak and write of Polish society’s wartime acts of commission or omission are diminishing the “myth” (his word) of Polish rescuers. “In doing so,” he opines, “critics are not playing fair. They go back for example to a stale argument and declare that the Holocaust was seen by a Polish society as a ‘great benefit’. There is not enough proof to support this thesis. The alleged ‘joy’ at the deaths of Jews is not really recorded by letters from that era, nor by literature, nor by the illegal underground press.”

Permit me to politely, yet forcefully, disagree, and to ask Sławek to kindly identify the “critics” to whom he is referring. It is a fact that during the German occupation, Poland’s spirited underground press was heavily infected by anti-Semitism and displayed little sympathy for Jews. Numerous Polish testimonies paint a picture of widespread indifference to the elimination of local Jews, and often great satisfaction.

On January 29, 1943 Wincenty Sobolewski, a physician from Sandomierz, wrote in his diary: “The Germans finish off the last remaining Jews in Poland. I have no pity for them, because they deserve it, because they were so ungrateful to us, Poles. Most of us are shocked, however, how a whole nation is murdered in such a way. So, finally justice has been done. Jesus gave the Jews two thousand years to mend their ways but seeing their obstinate refusal, he decided to punish them.”

I could furnish many other eyewitness accounts that point to the same thing. Sławek references Jan Karski — today, posthumously, an exalted figure in Poland. However, he fails to acknowledge, as I pointed out in the article to which he is responding, that the intrepid courier reported to the Polish Government-in-Exile that “anti-Semitism is something akin to a narrow bridge upon which the Germans and a… large part of Polish society is finding agreement.” Is Karski’s contemporaneous description to be dismissed as “stale” and lacking credibility? Now we may choose to highlight or to downplay his testimony, and that of many other eyewitnesses, but we certainly cannot deny its existence or wish it away.

One can make the case that history belongs to the past and should not be allowed to disturb a flourishing, mutually beneficial relationship. But as William Faulkner wrote of his native Mississippi — and he might just as well have been writing about Poles and Jews — “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The memory of Poland’s Righteous among the Nations can and should be a source of pride for Polish society. Those individuals, drawn from many walks of life, wrote an inspiring page in the gloomiest chapter of our common history. They were, as Nechama Tec called them, “lights that pierced the darkness,” and can serve as a rallying point uniting Poles and Israelis who together commemorate their nobility of spirit. But politics and history are a combustible brew, and if we reduce the story of the Righteous to a “kumbaya” branding exercise, we should not be surprised when bona fide scholars protest — and protest loudly — especially when some priests, PR men, politicians and diplomats play fast and loose with the facts. In other words, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. That is why what Sławek has written, particularly as it relates to the Jewish experience in wartime Poland, is so disquieting, yet also so symptomatic of the prevailing ambiance in Warsaw. It is readily evident that in certain circles, the memory of the Righteous is being used as a battering ram to suppress research on the Holocaust and as it contradicts the notion that the actions of the Righteous were somehow representative of the attitude of Polish society at large.

Over the past 25 years, a voluminous body of literature has emerged on the destruction of the Jews of Poland, most of it in Polish, the work of outstanding scholars affiliated with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research. The Center, located in a threadbare room in the Staszic Palace (home of the Polish Academy of Sciences, under whose auspices it operates), is but a 300-meter — 4-minute — walk from the institute on Warceka Street, headed by Sławek. I would be very glad to introduce him to some of my distinguished colleagues and friends there, such as Prof. Jacek Leociak, Prof Barbara Engelking, Prof. Jan Grabowski, and my own co-author, Prof. Dariusz Libionka. However, before that meeting, it might behoove Sławek to acquaint himself with some of their books, or at least a few of the articles published in their scholarly journal Zagłada. To be sure, these meticulously documented texts are not for the faint of heart, revealing as they do, in great detail, a chilling picture of widespread indifference to Jewish suffering and death, and on occasion, the enthusiastic participation of locals in the destruction, whether as enablers or executioners. Those scholars have also made clear that most Poles sheltering Jews were more afraid of blackmail and denunciation by their own neighbors than the random inspection of Germans.

Perhaps the most puzzling (and to me personally hurtful) assertion is Sławek’s suggestion that I am party to some kind of jealously guarded “monopoly” that seeks to stifle debate on Polish–Jewish relations, and which “claim[s] the exclusive right to conduct dialogue.” I would like to assure him that there is no such sinister cabal, at least not to my knowledge. If anyone seems to be claiming exclusivity in dealing with these issues, it is those who have pushed for the adoption of legislation that would criminalize the publication of historical findings not to the liking of certain members of Polish officialdom and others who worry that it might besmirch Poland’s good name.

It is especially striking that in this newly concocted narrative there is no place for the late, great Władysław Bartoszewski, the “grand old man of Polish diplomacy,” one of the first Poles to be recognized by Yad Vashem for saving Jews. Bartoszewski, whose commitment to democracy and decency in Poland was second to none, was relentlessly excoriated by Radio Maryja and others who share its views. Once, when discussing some nonsense that had crept into the political discourse, he declared that he had gone to jail to protect the right of others to express such stupidity. Perhaps it is for that reason that a move to name a traffic circle in his honor in Opole was rejected as being “too controversial.” Meantime, in Łódź, once home to some 200,000 Jews (1/3 of the total population), it was just reported that plans are afoot to name a street for Kazimierz Kowalski. In 1938, Kowalski’s friend Bogdan Gajewicz called the nationalist activist “the symbol of Polish anti-Semitism — Enemy No 1 of the Jews.”

Sławek claims that the notorious Father Rydzyk has put down his arms. Has he? Or has the Radio Maryja czar simply found a more devious way of advancing his agenda and of gaining respectability? Jews deeply believe in the idea of Tshuva [repentance]. But absolution is contingent upon the confession of one’s of sins to God and to those who have been wronged.

While we cannot know whether Father Rydzyk has expressed contrition to our common Maker, we mortals are still awaiting a public mea culpa for his having poisoned the minds of an entire generation with his vile anti-Jewish invective. How many acts of thuggish behavior were inspired by Father Rydzyk and his minions? How many Jewish cemeteries were desecrated? How many hateful words were uttered and penned? How many Poles were seduced by the broadcasts of Holocaust deniers such as Prof. Ryszard Bender and Dr. Dariusz Ratajczyk, who were invited to spread their bile on the airwaves of Radio Maryja? We shall never know.

Another question entirely is whether the precious memory of Righteous Poles should be entrusted to the likes of someone who repeatedly preached a shrill message of hate. I do not think so, and I cannot imagine that Prof. Bartoszewski would have either, but evidently others disagree.

Sławek has suggested that I am embroiled in a “private dispute” with Jonny Daniels. For the record, I have never met Mr. Daniels, and have no desire to do so. I know enough about him from the opprobrious interviews he gives to the Polish media, which he proudly posts on Facebook. Rather than combat anti-Semitism, he unabashedly propagates some of its worst tropes. In one recent interview, Mr. Daniels dismissed those who take issue with the feel-good narrative he peddles as being “leftists” who make money from defaming Poland. In another, he took pains to stress that in Poland anti-Semitism and xenophobia are entirely marginal phenomena. Recently, for the sake of appearances, he has acknowledged the latest egregious acts of anti-Semitism, presumably while winking at those upon whose support he is dependent.

It takes a whopping measure of hubris for Mr. Daniels, who first set foot in Poland just a few years ago, has no academic credentials whatsoever, and by his own admission speaks no Polish at all, to suddenly present himself as an expert on Polish affairs. His most outstanding characteristics, aside of course from his obsequious fawning, seem to be an oversized ego and a truly dazzling ability to promote himself. Have his efforts benefited the struggle against anti-Semitism or the cause of Polish–Jewish relations? The answer to that question very much depends on the beholder. Lamentably, influential people in Poland and Israel claim that it has, presumably each for their own reasons.

Lest there be no doubt, my own passion for Poland is undiminished. I feel inexorably tied to the land of my forebears and have spent a considerable chunk of my adult life working to overcome the gap that divides Pole and Jews and to help jettison our respective stereotypes. As part of that process, over the years, I have organized dozens of lectures by Righteous Poles for Israeli high school students visiting Poland and for other Jewish and non-Jewish visitors of all ages. I have never papered over the bitter aspects of our common history or distorted them, even if that has ruffled both Jewish and Polish feathers. I can hope that the Poles and Jews of goodwill who know me well, Sławek among them, do not question my sincerity or respect me any less for it.

I shudder to think of what Prof. Karski — for whom my younger son Adam Jan is named — would say about all this. I doubt that he would have been pleased to see his legacy — and that of others like him — so shamelessly exploited to advance an agenda he would have found utterly contemptible.


History behind WWII’s great unsung female codebreaker is finally unravelled

Though her actions helped save countless Allied lives, it takes some digging to find a record of Elizebeth Smith Friedman

The Friedmans in their home library, 1957. (George C. Marshal Foundation)

Even as the United States fought the Axis Powers in Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II, a new threat emerged at home — this time from a Nazi spy ring operating out of South America.

The cell sought to conduct both political and military operations as they worked to sway the politically-neutral continent towards the Germans, while reporting on Allied ship movements, putting vessels at risk of destruction by German U-boats.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had no answer for the ring. But Elizebeth Smith Friedman did.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, the veteran codebreaker (whose Jewish-American husband, William Friedman, was himself a legendary name in intelligence history) had honed her skills battling Prohibition-era smugglers — who, it turned out, had used codes similar to those employed by the Nazi spies.

Friedman not only cracked the Nazi codes, she helped bring down the spy ring. In January 1944, Nazi isolation from South America was complete when Argentina broke off relations with the Axis.

Yet for decades, this story — and the woman behind it — were lost to history.

Now, a new book, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone, aims to correct this oversight.

It comes on the heels of the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” — about Friedman’s British codebreaking contemporary, Alan Turing — and this year’s film “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women in the space industry who were also ignored by history.

“You go back and look at public sources, and women are there,” Fagone said. “They’ve been there all along. They were omitted from the story when the story got told by men, sometimes even outright erased. Elizebeth and her WWII heroics were papered over by J. Edgar Hoover. All the while, Hoover claimed credit for what Elizebeth and her team were doing.”

Fagone discovered her story several years ago. He was researching the National Security Agency (NSA) while reporting on Edward Snowden, who leaked information from the agency in 2013.

The author began reading about William Friedman, whom he said “was considered the godfather of the NSA,” and was also renowned for breaking the Japanese WWII Purple code.

“I noticed his wife was also a codebreaker,” Fagone said. “I thought, ‘that’s interesting, husband and wife codebreakers.’ … I got curious and began to dig. It was this kind of incredible untold story, a woman at the heart of the American intelligence community, that began to unfold.”

She was born Elizebeth Smith to Quaker parents in Huntington, Indiana, in 1892. Her mother Sopha provided her unconventional first name.

She had an early interest in codes — including a belief that the works of Shakespeare contained secret messages. George Fabyan, a Gilded Age tycoon from Chicago, recruited her to try to find these messages — one of his many projects.

Smith also met a geneticist on Fabyan’s staff named William Friedman — a Russian immigrant born as Wolf Friedman, the son of a Talmudic scholar.

“William was interested in a homegrown version of Zionism,” Fagone said, although later in life he criticized the movement.

“As a young man growing up in Pittsburgh, he decided at an early age he was going to try to learn being a farmer. His high school friends believed Jewish youths needed to make themselves strong in the face of anti-Semitism and go back to the land. Ultimately, he decided to become a scholar of genetics instead,” said Fagone.

Friedman and Smith married in 1917. “It was not something that was really done in their worlds,” Fagone said. “She was a Quaker girl from the Midwest, Friedman was from a Jewish community in Pittsburgh.”

The Friedmans in their home library, 1957. (George C. Marshal Foundation)

Even as the United States fought the Axis Powers in Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II, a new threat emerged at home — this time from a Nazi spy ring operating out of South America.

The cell sought to conduct both political and military operations as they worked to sway the politically-neutral continent towards the Germans, while reporting on Allied ship movements, putting vessels at risk of destruction by German U-boats.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had no answer for the ring. But Elizebeth Smith Friedman did.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, the veteran codebreaker (whose Jewish-American husband, William Friedman, was himself a legendary name in intelligence history) had honed her skills battling Prohibition-era smugglers — who, it turned out, had used codes similar to those employed by the Nazi spies.

Friedman not only cracked the Nazi codes, she helped bring down the spy ring. In January 1944, Nazi isolation from South America was complete when Argentina broke off relations with the Axis.

Yet for decades, this story — and the woman behind it — were lost to history.

‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes’ by Jason Fagone.

It comes on the heels of the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” — about Friedman’s British codebreaking contemporary, Alan Turing — and this year’s film “Hidden Figures,” about African-American women in the space industry who were also ignored by history.

“You go back and look at public sources, and women are there,” Fagone said. “They’ve been there all along. They were omitted from the story when the story got told by men, sometimes even outright erased. Elizebeth and her WWII heroics were papered over by J. Edgar Hoover. All the while, Hoover claimed credit for what Elizebeth and her team were doing.”

Fagone discovered her story several years ago. He was researching the National Security Agency (NSA) while reporting on Edward Snowden, who leaked information from the agency in 2013.

The author began reading about William Friedman, whom he said “was considered the godfather of the NSA,” and was also renowned for breaking the Japanese WWII Purple code.

“I noticed his wife was also a codebreaker,” Fagone said. “I thought, ‘that’s interesting, husband and wife codebreakers.’ … I got curious and began to dig. It was this kind of incredible untold story, a woman at the heart of the American intelligence community, that began to unfold.”

Jason Fagone, author of ‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes.’ (Courtesy)

She was born Elizebeth Smith to Quaker parents in Huntington, Indiana, in 1892. Her mother Sopha provided her unconventional first name.

She had an early interest in codes — including a belief that the works of Shakespeare contained secret messages. George Fabyan, a Gilded Age tycoon from Chicago, recruited her to try to find these messages — one of his many projects.

Smith also met a geneticist on Fabyan’s staff named William Friedman — a Russian immigrant born as Wolf Friedman, the son of a Talmudic scholar.

“William was interested in a homegrown version of Zionism,” Fagone said, although later in life he criticized the movement.

“As a young man growing up in Pittsburgh, he decided at an early age he was going to try to learn being a farmer. His high school friends believed Jewish youths needed to make themselves strong in the face of anti-Semitism and go back to the land. Ultimately, he decided to become a scholar of genetics instead,” said Fagone.

Friedman and Smith married in 1917. “It was not something that was really done in their worlds,” Fagone said. “She was a Quaker girl from the Midwest, Friedman was from a Jewish community in Pittsburgh.”

But, he said, “Young people in love, as often happens, their love for each other was stronger than fears of what their families would think.”

They would have a lasting marriage, with two children. Codebreaking kept them close.

“They were two young people who wanted to accomplish very great things,” Fagone said. “They clicked through this very intense activity of codebreaking. They would be across the table from each other, for eight, 10, 12 hours a day, cranking through puzzles. They loved it.”

They became highly successful at it. “William Friedman, like Elizebeth Friedman, was one of the great codebreakers of all time, a genius at seeing patterns in what looked like noise,” said Fagone. “Along with Elizebeth, he was involved in some of the methods at the foundation of modern cryptology.”

When America entered WWI in 1917, “very quickly, because of the necessities of war, [Elizebeth Friedman] was transferred from the Shakespeare project to hunt and solve secret messages to Germany,” he said.

Her husband went to France in 1918 as a codebreaker for the American Expeditionary Force. Throughout his career, however, he faced anti-Semitism.

“He grew up hearing stories of anti-Jewish pogroms that had swept through the family’s ancient home in Russia,” Fagone said. “Those stories never left him. I think, all his career, he was aware of anti-Semitism in the US military. He was afraid it would harm his career and livelihood.

“The US military was thoroughly anti-Semitic, in a casual, everyday way. … People he worked with in the War Department believed in anti-Semitic frauds, gathering intelligence about what they called ‘the Jewish question’ on MID [Military Intelligence Division] index cards. One was called ‘Jews: Race.’ That was the professional environment of William Friedman,” said Fagone.

Meanwhile, Elizebeth Friedman would make history at “the only codebreaking unit in America ever to be run by a woman,” Fagone wrote.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department of Henry Morgenthau Jr., “she battled smugglers and professional gangsters, intercepting messages, literally reading the thoughts of the biggest gangsters of the day,” Fagone said. “She testified, sometimes at risk to her personal safety.”

The couple’s interwar achievements helped them accomplish great feats during WWII. William Friedman led the Army team that cracked the Japanese code Purple.

“Ultimately, they were able to intercept, break and read Japanese diplomatic messages all through the war,” Fagone said. “They read into the minds of top Japanese diplomats all over the world — and also the Nazi mind. Japanese diplomats were talking with their Nazi counterparts. William and his team read that, too. In an enormous way, they probably helped shorten the war.”

However, Friedman suffered a nervous breakdown and was honorably discharged.

“Later in life, when his depression became more acute, he talked about the toll that anti-Semitism was taking on him with a psychiatrist,” Fagone said.

And while he helped create what became the NSA in 1952, Cold War-era tensions arose between the Friedmans and the agency, boiling over in 1958, when agents removed many of the Friedmans’ personal papers from their Capitol Hill home.

While William Friedman’s wartime achievements are well-known, his wife’s are not. Of the 22 boxes of personal files Elizebeth Friedman left to the George C. Marshall Foundation library in Virginia, there was no documentation between 1939 and 1945.

It turned out that her records had been declassified in 2000. Locating them in the National Archives “was the part that took me the most time and research,” Fagone said.

It took two years, and “it was more dramatic and surprising than anything I had ever expected.”

Elizebeth Friedman had matched wits with Johannes Siegfried Becker — “the most prolific and effective Nazi spy in the Western Hemisphere during WWII,” Fagone wrote.

Becker’s spy network in South America collected intelligence that “would allow a U-boat to go after an Allied vessel,” Fagone said. “A Nazi spy in Buenos Aires or another port would note when an Allied ship would depart at a certain time. Berlin would dispatch a U-boat that would attempt to destroy it with a torpedo. … It was a death warrant. There were dozens, hundreds of people aboard an Allied vessel. It was important to be able to intercept, warn the captains.”

Other intelligence “gave Germany a picture of what goods were being transported to whom,” Fagone said.

“A lot of espionage was about commerce, raw materials, ores, food to feed the army. Various South American governments made deals with both sides to secure a line on imported ores, metals, supplies of food. It was useful to know if a ship full of Argentine beef was heading in a certain direction,” he said.

These messages were transmitted via clandestine radio networks.

“For anyone to find out what they were saying, they had to intercept the radio messages and break the codes,” Fagone said. “The FBI was totally unprepared. They had no codebreaking team.”

But the Coast Guard and Elizebeth Friedman were perfectly prepared. “Elizebeth had built an elite team of codebreakers within the Coast Guard,” Fagone said.

“The Nazi spies had very similar radio techniques, very similar codes, to the rum runners and drug smugglers in the 1920s, 1930s. It just shows how Elizebeth was ready, with that sort of skills, for a pivotal moment in the war. … She shifted her focus from fighting smugglers to tracking and hunting spies all through WWII,” he said.

Decades later, the NSA was skeptical of the threat from Nazi spies in South America.

“Did the Axis’ clandestine effort in the Western Hemisphere have any effect on the conduct of the war? Probably not,” David P. Mowry wrote in a since-declassified 1989 publication, “German Clandestine Activities in South America in World War II.”

“It appears that most of the intelligence passed to Germany was of little significance,” said the article. And “[The] answer to the question, ‘Did the US cryptanalytic effort against the Axis spies have any effect on the conduct of the war?’ is also, ‘Probably not.’”

However, Friedman and her team made an impressive 4,000 decryptions from 50 separate Nazi radio circuits.

Fagone said the decriptions managed “to create a detailed map of the Nazi spy network in South America … figure out who was talking to who and why, map connections with various South American governments to track finances down to the peso, learn code names and true identities of all agents” — all of which helped authorities “go in and disrupt, arrest and destroy spy networks, eliminate the Nazi espionage threat.”

She also assisted with high-profile domestic espionage cases. “Her role was omitted or erased when the FBI told the story,” Fagone said.

She and her Coast Guard team decrypted intelligence that aided Hoover’s 1941 investigation of the Duquesne spy ring — in which 33 men went to jail for a collective 300 years.

In 1944, she testified as an expert against Japanese spy Velvalee Dickinson, nicknamed the Doll Woman for writing letters purportedly about sales from her New York doll shop that actually described damage to Allied warships.

“The FBI did a lot of good work in WWII,” Fagone said, “in the Duquesne case, and a lot of good work with the Doll Woman. It’s just that, when [Hoover] told the story, the FBI did everything.”



Europe’s only Jewish hospice gives Holocaust survivors a dignified farewell

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Henny Goudeketing, left, and Anne van de Geest at the main hall of the Immanuel Jewish hospice in Amsterdam, Nov. 1, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Henny Goudeketting, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor, is ailing and preparing to leave the world.

Goudeketting, who was sterilized in Nazi medical experiments at Auschwitz, has neither children nor other relatives to care for her. Now, after multiple infections and recurrent falls, she’s readying to say goodbye.

“It’s kind of strange,” Goudeketting told JTA. “I know I have no future and I’m ready to die, but I’m still afraid of actually dying.”

The Amsterdam native returned to the city at 23 after surviving Auschwitz.

“My biggest sorrow is not being able to have children,” said Goudeketting, who had worked for decades as a seamstress.

Last month she was admitted to Immanuel, a small but upscale eight-room facility for the terminally ill. It is Europe’s only Jewish hospice, according to Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

While such facilities are common in the U.S. — the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, which was established in 1985 in New York, lists no fewer than 225 accredited Jewish hospice programs — they remain rare on the continent, where the Jewish community was decimated by the Holocaust.

Funded through private donations, as well as patient fees and some subsidies, the hospice was built by the Dutch Jewish community for survivors like Goudeketting to receive top end-of-life care.

“I’m not sure whether this is real, the luxurious treatment I’m getting here,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my whole life.”

Take the on-demand room service.

“If I want a fried egg, or anything else, all I have to do is buzz,” said Goudeketting, whose stay at Immanuel is covered by her insurance. “They come round in seconds to terribly spoil me.”

The Netherlands, which last year was No. 1 on Europe’s index of public health systems, has 146 hospices nationwide with an average guest satisfaction rating of 9.1 out of 10. And whereas Immanuel’s on-demand room service is a standout amenity, patients at other hospices receive similar conditions — all for a daily rate of less than $70 covered by the government or basic insurance policies.

But Immanuel is the only hospice in Europe for guests like Goudeketting who keep kosher, although there are other hospitals with palliative programs that offer kosher food. They include the North London Hospice Group, which defines itself as Britain’s first “multifaith hospice.”

It’s also the only hospice where the staff and volunteers “already know the special issues connected to caring for the generation of Holocaust survivors,” said Sasja Martel, the institution’s founding director. That’s crucial, she said, “because at the last stage of life, it’s often too late to start explaining” what those special issues are.

A case in point: At Immanuel, the staff encourages guests to resist the urge “to finish their plates,” Martel said, and only eat when they are hungry.

“Traumatized by the Holocaust, survivors and their children tend to associate eating with staying alive,” she explained. “And that’s true, but at the terminal stage eating can hasten death.”

Rabbinical or other spiritual counseling is available to guests, as is counseling on accepting death, mostly by volunteers. That’s an issue for many survivors who are conditioned to “fight death at all costs,” Martel said.

The hospice, which has an annual budget of approximately $500,000, is subtly adorned with Jewish symbols ranging from mezuzahs, menorahs and, atop one piece of furniture in the main hall, a small pile of stones of the kind that Jews place on cemetery headstones. But even though they are understated, the symbols can have a profound effect on some guests.

“The significance of little things is amplified near the end,” Martel said. “Many guests feel a need to touch their identity, reconnect with it, even if only through the symbols. Or the typical Ashkenazi Jewish chicken soup we serve, that they remember from their grandmother, or the white tablecloth on Shabbat and the candle lighting. Or just a Jewish joke.”

The importance of a Jewish setting increases for many people facing end-of-life questions, according to Jewish health care professionals. Jewish “teachings and values can provide comfort to them,” according to a 2013 study by four American researchers, including a rabbi and a physician.

Jewish liturgy, traditions and even a common language also ease some difficulties, according to a 2009 interview that Rabbi Sara Gilbert, a chaplain at Shalom Cares Hospice in Aurora, Colorado, gave the Intermountain Jewish News. ”

At Immanuel, staff are trained to accommodate the special needs of survivors like Goudeketting, who have no family, added Martel.

“We need to be conscious that for many of our guests we are all that they have, which is not necessarily the case in other hospices,” she said.

There are other sensitivity issues. For example, the hospice decided not to hire a nurse who had a German accent, Martel said last week at a symposium on hospice care in Judaism in honor of Immanuel’s 10th anniversary.

“If it was discrimination, it was a positive one for our guests,” she said.

One former patient, Bram Koopmans, said in a filmed interview before his death in 2010 that the hospice was his first contact with a Jewish community institution since staying at an orphanage for child Holocaust survivors in the 1940s.

On his deathbed, Koopmans said that after decades of avoiding his Jewish identity, staying at Immanuel made him remember the Jewish blessing over bread, or hamotzi, which he was taught at the orphanage. Holding back tears, Koopmans recited the blessing during the interview while holding one hand over his head.

“It’s been waiting in me for years and years,” he said. “It’s as though I never left.”

Koopmans asked volunteers at Immanuel to go to his home and fetch a kippah and menorah that he had hidden away, Martel recalled. He also asked a rabbi to give him a bar mitzvah at the hospice. Koopmans had a Jewish burial, which he didn’t plan to do when he first arrived at Immanuel.

Only about half of the hospice’s guests are Jewish, however. Anyone diagnosed as being terminally ill can ask to be referred here. And though capacity is limited because of Immanuel’s small size, the high turnover — the average stay is 11 days — means frequent openings.

“When we set up this home, we decided as a matter of policy that it wouldn’t be a place for Jews only,” Martel said. “We didn’t want to send anyone away.”

Subsequently, Immanuel has a second non-kosher kitchen so as not to limit the nutrition of non-Jews.

But one thing not on offer at Immanuel is assisted suicide, which is readily available in the Netherlands for the terminally ill.

The country’s parliament is now debating a controversial draft bill that would allow even healthy people to receive assisted suicide. But ending one’s life is “diametrically opposed to the Jewish values that sanctify life,” said Martel, who added that Immanuel advises patients not to give up their homes in case they wish to end their life after being admitted to the institution.

Anne van de Geest is a non-Jewish guest in her 90s who is unable to walk because of cancer that has metastasized throughout her body.

“I like the atmosphere here, which is quiet but lively,” she said.

Van de Geest, who used to make jewelry and fashion accessories, said she chose to stay at Immanuel after hearing good things about it from friends.

Word of mouth was also how Chazia Mourali, a well-known television host and writer in the Netherlands, heard of Immanuel, where her mother, Elise van den Brink, stayed before her death in 2015.

“We’re Catholic and people at church told us the Jewish hospice was the best choice,” Mourali, whose father was born in Tunisia, told JTA at the symposium. “We liked the sound of that and she felt right at home.

“People with our Middle Eastern mentality — a Calvinist Dutch hospice is the last thing we needed.”


Auschwitz inmate, who survived by cutting hair, dies aged 98

Benjamin Scheinkopf, who worked for 60 years as a barber after moving to the US, was 97 when he retired

A former inmate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp who, together with his brother, survived the Holocaust by cutting the hair of other prisoners and then went on to work as barber for 60 years, died last week aged 98.

Benjamin Scheinkopf, known in Chicago as “Ben the Barber,” was 97 when he finally retired, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Scheinkopf was born in Plonsk, Poland, the hometown of David Ben-Gurion, one of the founding fathers of Israel who declared the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Although his father, a shoemaker, urged him to take up the same profession, Scheinkopf decided to be a barber, a choice that later saved his life.

After 1939, when Germany invaded and occupied Poland, Scheinkopf was sent to Auschwitz where over a million Jews were murdered. Inmates were starved and forced into slave labor, and then ultimately killed.

However, Scheinkopf and his brother Josef, also a barber, were tasked with cutting other inmates’ hair, a measure the camp guards hoped would prevent the spread of lice which they feared catching themselves. The position gave them marginally better conditions, separated from other inmates, that enabled them to survive.

Scheinkopf gave a videoed testimony of his experiences to the USC Shoah Foundation. As he cut the hair of prisoners, he recalled, they would ask him if he had any information about other members of their families.

Under no illusions about what was going on around him, Scheinkopf gave his honest, if tragic, opinion.

“I said, ‘Family, you’re not going to see it anymore,’” he said in his testimony.

After the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz in January 1945 he was sent to Germany, where he met his wife Emily. They moved to Chicago in 1954 and were married for 66 years.

Scheinkopf died on November 18. He is survived by three sons and three grandchildren.

His son, Jeffery, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his father would scold him and his siblings if they didn’t eat their dinner, telling them that he had to eat the bark of a tree during the Holocaust.

According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, of the 5,000 Jews in Plonsk, only a few dozen survived. Of Scheinkopf’s nine siblings, only two survived the war: Josef, who moved to Israel, and a sister,Brana, who lived in France.


Ratko Mladić’s Genocide Conviction, and Why it Matters

I cannot in good conscience condemn the perpetrators of the genocide in which my brother and my grandparents perished unless I also condemn the perpetrators of all other acts of genocide, including the genocide that took place at Srebrenica

This morning in The Hague, Judge Alphons Orie of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered the judgment in Case IT-09-92-T, The Prosecutor v. Ratko Mladić. Finding Mladić guilty of genocide, extermination, murder, and other crimes against humanity and war crimes, the ICTY sentenced Mladić to life imprisonment.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the human variant of a monster as, “A person of repulsively unnatural character, or exhibiting such extreme cruelty or wickedness as to appear inhuman; a monstrous example of evil…” Mladić is such a monster.

From 1992 until 1996, Mladić, who had previously been a career military officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, was the commander of the army of the breakaway Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, better known simply as Republika Srpska. During these years, together with Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadžić, he orchestrated the brutal ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats from territories they and other Serbian ultra-nationalists considered integral to a de facto “Greater Serbia.” Mladić also directed the shelling of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995 which the ICTY Trial Chamber deemed to have spread terror throughout the Bosnian capital’s civilian population, took UN personnel hostage in violation of the laws or customs of war, and, most relevant to this article, perpetrated genocide against the Bosnian Muslim population of Sarajevo.

Sitting impassively in the courtroom for the first 45 minutes of Judge Orie’s summarizing of the judgment, clean shaven, his white hair neatly trimmed, dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, Mladić did not look like a monster, a genocidaire if you will, but then again, neither did Adolf Eichmann in his glass both in Jerusalem.

After approximately 42 minutes, Mladić’s counsel asked if the Tribunal could take a recess so that the defendant could use the rest room. When the session resumed, Judge Orie announced that Mladić had been removed to another room where he could follow the proceedings on a screen.

Some background to the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, which included the genocide perpetrated at Srebrenica, is relevant here. In his 1936 political reportage, Inside Europe, John Gunther wrote that what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, created in the aftermath of World War I out of Balkan regions of the defunct Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, was made up of “some 13,500,000 powerful and truculent Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Slavones, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, [and] Dalmatians.” Many if not most of these different national groups had centuries-old histories of deeply rooted animosity toward one another.

Between 1945 and 1980, the independent communist and former anti-fascist partisan leader Josip Broz Tito kept Yugoslavia’s internal domestic tensions largely under control. Within a decade of Tito’s death, however, the nationalist Serbian president Slobodan Milošević pushed the envelope with respect to Serbian domination of the country, relegating to the dustbin a delicate balance of power that had been maintained since the end of World War II.

In April of 1989, a New York Times editorial accused Milošević of inflaming “ancient ethnic hatreds for the sake of his own political ambitions.” Since becoming Serbia’s Communist Party boss, the editorial wrote, Milošević had “pressed a relentless political campaign, complete with mass rallies, fiery rhetoric and bureaucratic purges, all aimed at making Serbia, and its party leader, supreme in a reshaped Yugoslavia.”

“We must secure unity in Serbia if we wish, as the largest and most populous republic, to dictate the further course of events,” Milošević declared in 1991. “These are the questions of borders, essential state questions. The borders, as you know, are always dictated by the strong, never by weak ones.” Karadžić and Mladić were among those Bosnian Serbs who were determined to establish a pan-Serbian hegemony in the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia were the first two Yugoslav republics to secede, with Croatia’s secession resulting in a brutal seven-month war. The following year, when Bosnia and Herzegovina—whose ethnic make-up was 43 percent Muslim, 35 percent Orthodox Serb, and 18 percent Roman Catholic Croat—followed suit, the Republika Srpska came into being, with catastrophic consequences for Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat minorities. In response to the atrocities that were being committed openly against civilians in what had been Yugoslavia, the United Nations Security Council on May 25, 1993—two years before the Srebrenica massacre—established the ICTY, whose charter gave it jurisdiction over a series of crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

Following their indictments by the ICTY in 1995, both Karadžić and Mladić went into hiding. Karadžić was eventually captured in July of 2008 and extradited to The Hague to stand trial before the ICTY. In March 2016, he was convicted on multiple counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Mladić in turn was seized by the Serbian police on May 26, 2011, in the village of Lazarevo some 90 kilometers from Belgrade, and flown to The Hague five days later. Mladić’s trial began on May 16, 2012.

The Mladić indictment charged him with the commission of genocide, as well as persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, other inhumane acts, both individually and as part of a criminal conspiracy with Karadžić and others. According to the indictment, “By using the word ‘committed’… the Prosecutor does not mean that the accused physically committed any of the crimes charged personally. ‘Committed,’ in the context of the accused’s liability under Article 7(1), refers to his participation in a joint criminal enterprise.”

Article 7 of the ICTY Statute provides that the fact that any charged criminal acts were committed by a defendant’s subordinate does not relieve such defendant of criminal responsibility if the defendant “knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.” Mladić has now been held accountable for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes perpetrated in Bosnian and Herzegovina, both directly and by virtue of his command authority over the troops that carried out the carnage.

The first of the two genocide counts in the indictment, which relates to “a joint criminal enterprise to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from the territories of [Bosnia and Herzegovina] claimed as Bosnian Serb territory,” charged Mladić with “conduct that manifested an intent to destroy in part the national, ethnical and/or religious groups of Bosnian Muslims and/or Bosnian Croats as such” with respect to Bosnian municipalities other than Srebrenica. As had been the case with Karadžić, the Trial Chamber convicted Mladić of extermination and murder— crimes against humanity—on this count, but not of genocide. The second genocide count—on which Mladić was found guilty—charged that he had “participated in a joint criminal enterprise to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by killing the men and boys of Srebrenica and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly men from Srebrenica.”

The gruesome facts that earned Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia, its place alongside Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jasenovac, Musa Dagh, and Butare, bear repeating.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, of course, was the most notorious of the Nazi death and concentration camps where the Holocaust of European Jewry was perpetrated during World War II. Jasenovac was the concentration camp in the “Independent State of Croatia” where between 77,000 and 99,000 Serbs, Jews and Roma were murdered by the Croatian fascist Ustasha between 1941 and 1945. Musa Dagh is the region of the Ottoman Empire where several thousand Armenians resisted for 53 days in 1915 against the efforts to destroy them in what has become known as the Armenian Genocide. Butare is the Rwanda préfecture, or province, where it is estimated that 220,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors and compatriots during that country’s 1994 Genocide.

On April 16, 1993, the U.N. Security Council designated “Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act.” The Srebrenica “safe area” was under the protection of a United Nations Protection Force. This designation was reinforced by the Security Council on May 6, 1993, in a second resolution. Defying the international community, Republika Srbska troops under Mladić’s command took control of Srebrenica in early July of 1995. Over the course of several days beginning on July 12, between 7,000 and 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered. The actual number of the dead has yet to be established. A February 12, 2000 report to the ICTY determined that “a minimum of 7,475 persons from the Srebrenica enclave are missing and presumed dead.” More recently, the International Commission on Missing Persons has estimated the number of missing at around 8,000, and international human rights advocate Ewelina U. Ochab has set the number of dead at 8,372. In 2005, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan described what occurred at Srebrenica as “a terrible crime—the worst on European soil since the Second World War.”

Judge Orie described one element of the genocide: “From the 12th to the 14th July, 1995, [Republika Srbska troops] organized the transport of approximately 25,00 Bosnian Muslims, mostly women, children, and elderly, out of Srebrenica enclave to territory under the control of the army of Bosnia and Herzegovinain convoys of buses and trucks. Bosnian Serb soldiers systematically separated Bosnian Muslim men of military age who were trying to get on board. Some of the separated males were as young as 12 years old, and some older than 60 years. The separations were frequently aggressive. The people being transferred were told that the Bosnian Muslim men would follow later. They never followed.”

The Bosnian Muslim men and boys were taken to nearby detention centers where they were executed. Judge Orie continued: “The Chamber found that many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs, and beaten while awaiting their execution. Bosnian Serb forces… systematically murdered several thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys, the vast majority over just a few days from the 12th to the 17th of July, 1995.”

With respect to the count of the indictment charging Mladić with genocide for the mass killings at Srebrenica, Judge Orie said: “The Chamber found that the prohibited acts as set out in the legal definition of genocide, that is, killing and causing serious bodily and mental harm, were committed by the physical perpetrators against the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica. The Chamber then examined the specific intent of the physical perpetrators. As explained in detail in the Judgment, the Chamber found that the physical perpetrators intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, a substantial part of the protected group. The Chamber therefore found that the crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer were committed against Bosnian Muslims in and around Srebrenica.”

There are different types of genocidaires, all equally guilty but performing different roles. At one extreme are the political instigators of the crime—Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels for example—whose bigoted ideology sparked the Nazis’ “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” but who never set foot in a death camp or witnessed a mass killing of Jews. Karadzic falls into this category. At the other extreme are the individuals who directly perpetrated the crimes. This latter grouping includes SS doctors such as Joseph Mengele who performed the selections at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the SS personnel who herded Jews into the gas chambers, as well as the likes of the Croatian Franciscan friar Fra Tomislav Filipović, also known as Fra Sotona (“Brother Satan”), the brutal commander of the Jasenovac camp.

Mladić falls squarely into the latter category. Regardless of whether or not he pulled an actual trigger himself, The ICTY Trial Chamber found that he ordered the mass killings to take place and orchestrated them. On July 11, 1995, he was filmed in Srebrenica. “We give this town to the Serb people as a gift,” he declared. Derogatorily referring to Muslims as “Turks,” he continued: “The time has come to take revenge on the Turks in this region.” After this television footage was shown at the opening of Mladić’s trial, prosecutor Peter McCloskey told the tribunal, “Over the next five days after this ominous remark about revenge, Mladić’s troops captured and systematically murdered thousands of Srebrenica’s men and boys.”


Despite the ICTY’s unequivocal determination to the contrary, we are likely before too long to hear loud voices contending that the atrocities of which Mladić has been convicted do not constitute genocide. Some of the naysayers will be politically motivated. Others misstate its definition. Still others do not seem to grasp that genocide is a defined legal term and not an amorphous abstract concept.

Three points are critical here: First, genocide, as set forth in the Convention, is a carefully defined cause of action crafted so as to allow for judicial flexibility in its interpretation. Second, it is a fundamental error to consider genocide a more serious or more heinous crime than other crimes against humanity such as “extermination”. And third, where the facts fit the definition of genocide, it is a profound moral disservice to attempt to deprive its victims of the designation.

Before discussing the crime of genocide in the context of both Mladić’s conviction and the Srebrenica massacre, it is important to understand the development of the law of genocide over the course of the past 73 years, since the term was first used in a book by a Polish-Jewish refugee named Raphael Lemkin.

On August 24, 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill said in a radio broadcast: “Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale or approaching such a scale. And this is but the beginning… We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” In August 1945, the atrocities perpetrated against civilian populations throughout Nazi-occupied Europe were designated as “crimes against humanity” in the Charter for the International Military Tribunal (IMT). This new criminal cause of action encompassed “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population,” as well as “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.”

Meanwhile, Lemkin had coined the term “genocide” in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. “By ‘genocide,’” Lemkin wrote, “we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group… Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.”

In a subsequent 1946 article, Lemkin expanded the meaning of genocide to include racial and religious groups, and he then lobbied the delegates at the first UN General Assembly to declare genocide as a crime under international law, which it did in a resolution adopted unanimously on December 11, 1946.

Two years later, on December 9, 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article II of the Convention provides that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

This wording, which also appears in the respective statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court (ICC), is the only relevant definition of genocide under international law.

For the next 44 years, genocide as a criminal cause of action remained largely an abstraction. On May 25, 1993, however, in response to reports of the atrocities that were being openly perpetrated in the Balkans, the UN Security Council formally established “an international tribunal for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian laws committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia” since 1991. This would become the first international criminal tribunal since the IMT at Nuremberg. In the same resolution, the Security Council adopted a report of the UN Secretary-General that included Genocide as a separate cause of action in the jurisdictional framework for the ICTY, alongside Crimes against Humanity, war crimes, and violations of the Geneva Conventions.

The ICTY Statute uses the same definition of genocide as does the Genocide Convention. The same wording, which is cited above, also appears in the respective statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the only relevant definition of genocide under international law.

Accordingly, I must respectfully disagree with my friend Professor Steven T. Katz who wrote that genocide must be defined as the “destruction of all human beings who belong to a particular ethnic, national or religious group without exception.” As will be discussed more fully below, an intent to destroy part of a protected group as such clearly satisfies the requirements of the Convention. Katz made essentially the same point in his book, The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. 1, where he also sought to expand the definition of genocide to incorporate attempts “to murder in its totality any… political, social, gender or economic group.” While intellectually provocative, that argument is also legally irrelevant. To adapt a popular contemporary expression, the Genocide Convention is what it is–not less, and certainly not more.

At the same time, incidentally, I firmly believe that genocide is no more heinous a crime than crimes against humanity as defined in the IMT Charter. Crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, enslavement, rape, and torture committed against civilian populations, are set forth as a separate criminal cause of action in the ICTY, ICTR and ICC Statutes, with no suggestion that they are any less gruesome, any less barbaric, or any less evil than genocide. Mass killings, mass rapes, and exterminations are no less monstrous because they happen not to meet the legal definition of genocide.

Specifically, the fact that Mladic—like Karadzic before him—was convicted of extermination rather than genocide for the mass killings in the various municipalities other than Srebrenica in no way lessens his guilt or somehow makes him a less odious creature.

I once wrote that the Holocaust stood alone in time as an aberration of history. I stand by that statement to the extent that it reflects the transnational and multinational scope of the Hitlerian “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Never before—and certainly not since—were millions of men, women, and children belonging to a given ethnic, national or religious group transported from countries across an entire continent to death camps equipped with gas chambers and crematoria. Never before—and certainly not since—was the machinery of annihilation as vast and as multi-faceted as it was in the Third Reich and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe between June 1941, when mass killings of Jews began after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and May 8, 1945—V-E Day—when World War II in Europe came to an end.

That does not mean, however, and should never be interpreted as implying, that other genocides and crimes against humanity are of any lesser severity. Every genocide is an equally heinous crime, whether the victims are Jews, Armenians, Tutsis, Bosniaks, Yezidis, Rohingya, or members of any other protected group. The fact that that the chosen instrument of death is a machete or machine gun rather than a gas chamber does not make an atrocity or series of atrocities any less atrocious. Nor does the fact that a genocide lasted months rather than years, as in Rwanda, or days rather than months, as at Srebrenica, make its perpetration any less reprehensible. It is the underlying nature of the crime—the intent to destroy a designated group as such—that makes every genocide, and every comparable crime against humanity for that matter, a crime that shocks our consciousness. Engaging in comparative suffering is a counter-productive and morally repugnant exercise.


To date, nineteen individuals—including Mladić, Karadžić, and Milošević, who died in custody at The Hague before his case came to verdict—have been charged before the ICTY in connection with Srebrenica. Of these, six—again including Mladić and Karadžić—have been convicted of genocide. In addition, at least eight others were convicted of genocide for their roles at Srebrenica by the War Crimes Chamber of the Court in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And in a landmark ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also held that Srebrenica constituted a genocide.

And yet, on July 8, 2015, Russia vetoed a British-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a “crime of genocide.” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, disparaged the proposed resolution as “not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated.”

Ambassador Churkin is not alone in holding such views.

In 2012, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić said on Montenegrin State Television that “There was no genocide in Srebrenica,” acknowledging only that, “”In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs.”

Ephraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, told the Belgrade-based newspaper Politika in June 2015 that he did not believe that what happened at Srebrenica “fit the description or definition of genocide and I think that the decision to call this genocide was adopted for political reasons.”

In a separate interview on Sputnik Serbia radio, Zuroff said that, “It is necessary to be very careful while using the concept of ‘genocide.’ I do not deny that the Serbian forces killed Muslims in Srebrenica, this should not have happened, and those responsible must be brought to justice. But there was no genocide in Srebrenica since the Serbs initially released women and children. And then the process of politicization of the tragedy began.”

And as recently as April of this year, Mladen Grujičić, the Serb Mayor of Srebrenica, publicly denied that a genocide had occurred there.

I respectfully but firmly believe as a matter of law that Churkin, Zuroff, and the others are wrong. As Ambassador Peter Wilson, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative at the UN, declared following Churkin’s veto, “that genocide occurred at Srebrenica… is a legal fact, not a political judgment.”

In a March 2004 talk at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Genocide in International Law, the noted international criminal and human rights law scholar William Schabas squarely confronted the core issue that has concerned many with respect to Srebrenica—namely, how the killing of less than 8,000 could be considered a genocide. The wholesale murder of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 million Tutsis was, in his words “a really clear cut case of genocide.” On the other hand, and, I might add, understandably, Schabas was bothered by what he called “micro-genocide,” that is, again in his words, “a really horrendous massacre but it’s not on the scale of Rwanda or the Holocaust.”

The fact, however, is that the scale of a possible genocide is not determinative. Nehemiah Robinson, the director of the Institute of Jewish Affairs of the World Jewish Congress who to this day is recognized as one of the leading authorities on the Genocide Convention, wrote in his 1960 Commentary on the Convention (a somewhat modified version of a monograph he had first published in 1949) that “the intent to destroy a multitude of persons of the same group because of their belonging to this group, must be classified as genocide even if these persons constitute only part of a group either within a country or within a region or within a single community, provided the number is substantial… It will be up to the courts to decide in each case whether the number was sufficiently large.”

In other words, there are no arbitrary or objective parameters by which to determine whether a given atrocity is sufficiently large in scale to qualify as a genocide. Rather, the courts must assess each situation separately and, to at least some extent, subjectively.

The ICTY has done so repeatedly, beginning with its 2001 trial judgment in Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstić, which was affirmed by the Appeals Chamber in 2004.

The Krstić Appeals Chamber unequivocally held that the number of victims was not a determinative factor in concluding whether or not a genocide had occurred:

The numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial…

In the same judgment, the ICTY Appeals Chamber affirmed the Trial Chamber’s conclusion that the Srebrenica massacre was indeed a genocide because it was an essential element of the intent to destroy the Muslim population of Eastern Bosnia as a whole. This, according to the Appeals Chamber was accomplished by the combination of murdering the 7,000 – 8,000 men and boys, and the forced transfer out of the area of the Bosnian Muslim women and elderly:

The size of the Bosnian Muslim population in Srebrenica prior to its capture by [Republika Srpska] forces in 1995 amounted to approximately forty thousand people. This represented not only the Muslim inhabitants of the Srebrenica municipality but also many Muslim refugees from the surrounding region. Although this population constituted only a small percentage of the overall Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time, the importance of the Muslim community of Srebrenica is not captured solely by its size. … Control over the Srebrenica region was … essential to the goal of some Bosnian Serb leaders of forming a viable political entity in Bosnia, as well as to the continued survival of the Bosnian people. Because most of the Muslim inhabitants of the region had, by 1995, sought refuge within the Srebrenica enclave, the elimination of that enclave would have accomplished the goal of purifying the entire region of its Muslim population.

According to the Appeals Chamber in Krstić,

Srebrenica was important due to its prominence in the eyes of both the Bosnian Muslims and the international community. The town of Srebrenica was the most visible of the “safe areas” established by the UN Security Council in Bosnia. By 1995 it had received significant attention in the international media. In its resolution declaring Srebrenica a safe area, the Security Council announced that it ‘should be free from armed attack or any other hostile act.’ This guarantee of protection was re-affirmed by the commander of the UN Protection Force in Bosnia (UNPROFOR) and reinforced with the deployment of UN troops. The elimination of the Muslim population of Srebrenica, despite the assurances given by the international community, would serve as a potent example to all Bosnian Muslims of their vulnerability and defenselessness in the face of Serb military forces. The fate of the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica would be emblematic of that of all Bosnian Muslims.

The Krstić Appeals Chamber went on to hold that in reaching the conclusion that a genocide had taken place, the Trial Chamber had been entitled to consider the “long-term impact that the elimination of seven to eight thousand men from Srebrenica would have on the survival of that community.” The Appeals Chamber further affirmed the Trial Chamber’s finding that:

Given the patriarchal character of the Bosnian Muslim society in Srebrenica, the destruction of such a sizeable number of men would ‘inevitably result in the physical disappearance of the Bosnian Muslim population at Srebrenica.’ Evidence introduced at trial supported this finding, by showing that, with the majority of the men killed officially listed as missing, their spouses are unable to remarry and, consequently, to have new children. The physical destruction of the men therefore had severe procreative implications for the Srebrenica Muslim community, potentially consigning the community to extinction.

“This,” the Krstić Appeals Chamber concluded, “is the type of physical destruction the Genocide Convention is designed to prevent.” The Krstić Appeals Chamber also affirmed the Trial Chamber’s consideration of the non-lethal elements of the Srebrenica massacre. It concluded, for example, that that the “forcible transfer” of the women, children and elderly from Srebrenica could be considered “an additional means by which to ensure the physical destruction of the Bosnian Muslim community in Srebrenica. The transfer completed the removal of all Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, thereby eliminating even the residual possibility that the Muslim community in the area could reconstitute itself.”

In 2007, in its Judgment in a proceeding brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia and Montenegro, the ICJ adopted the ICTY’s conclusion in Krstić and concluded that “the acts committed at Srebrenica… were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina as such; and accordingly that these were acts of genocide, committed by members of the VRS in and around Srebrenica from about 13 July 1995.”

In 2010, in holding yet again that a genocide had been perpetrated at Srebrenica, the ICTY Trial Chamber in Prosecutor v. Popović, Beara, et al listed the underlying acts that supported this finding. In addition to “killing members of the group” (Article II (a) of the Genocide Convention and Article 4 (2) (a) of the ICTY Charter), the Trial Chamber found that the killing operation at Srebrenica also “inflicted serious bodily and mental harm on the Muslims of Eastern Bosnia,“ both on those who were ultimately killed and those who survived the killing operation, as well as on the surviving family members and loved ones of those killed (Article II (b) of the Genocide Convention and Article 4 (2) (b) of the ICTY Charter). In January 2015, The ICTY Appeals Chamber affirmed the Trial Chamber’s Popović judgment.

It must also be noted that in its April 2015 Judgment in Prosecutor v. Zdravko Tolimir, yet another ICTY Appeals Panel reaffirmed–in my opinion decisively and unambiguously–that “the killing of at least 5,749 Bosnian Muslim men from Srebrenica” constituted a genocidal actus reus, perpetrated with the requisite genocidal intent. The Appeals Panel in Tolimir also affirmed the Trial Chamber’s holdings that (a) the infliction of serious bodily or mental harm on these Muslim men and boys prior to their being executed constituted a separate act of genocide; and (b) that the “the suffering of the women, children, and elderly forcibly transferred from Srebrenica amounted to serious mental harm under Article 4 of the [ICTY] statute” – that is to say, one of the acts constituting genocide under both the ICTY Charter and the Genocide Convention.

With respect to the deportation of the Bosnian Muslim women, children and elderly of Srebrenica, the Appeals Chamber in Tolimir stated that, “serious mental harm need not result from acts causing permanent or irremediable mental impairment. It suffices that the harmful conduct caused grave and long-term disadvantage to the ability of the members of the protected group to lead a normal and constructive life so as to threaten the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part.”

In the same vein, last year’s four-volume, 2,581 page Karadžić Judgment listed the factors underlying the Trial Chamber’s genocide conviction, including:

• Bosnian Muslims constituted a protected group for purposes of Article 4 of the Statute [the Genocide Article].

• At least 5,115 Bosnian Muslim males were killed by Bosnian Serb forces, and these Bosnian Muslim males were members of the protected group for purposes of Article 4 (2) (a) of the Statute.

• The “suffering endured” by these Bosnian Muslim males “in the final days and hours before they were killed by Bosnian Serb forces constituted serious bodily or mental harm.”

• “The Bosnian Serb forces caused serious bodily and mental harm to the Bosnian Muslim males who managed to survive the killings and lived to testify,” and further that in addition to the aforementioned serious bodily or mental harm suffered by these surviving Bosnian Muslim males, “their respective close encounters with death have had long-lasting effects on their respective abilities to lead normal and constructive lives.”

• The “mental harm” caused “as a result of the killing of the men and boys and the forcible removal of the remainder of Bosnian Muslims has had long-lasting effects on the respective abilities of the surviving women, children, and some elderly men to live normal and constructive lives.”

• The “only reasonable inference” to be drawn from the killing of the Bosnian Muslim men and boys of Srebrenica “is that members of the Bosnian Serb Forces orchestrating this operation intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica as such.”

• The Republika Srpska forces “must have been aware of the detrimental impact that the eradication of multiple generations of men would have on the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in that the killing of all able-bodied males while forcibly removing the remainder of the population would have severe procreative implications for the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and thus result in their physical extinction.”

• Even though “the Bosnia Muslim population in Srebrenica constituted a numerically small percentage of the Bosnian Muslim population, the enclave’s seizure was of particular strategic importance due to its geographic proximity to Serbia, its symbolic stature as a refuge for Bosnian Muslims, and the fact that its elimination despite its status as a safe area would be demonstrative of the potential fate of all Bosnian Muslims.? Accordingly, the Karadžić Trial Chamber found that “the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica constituted a substantial part of the Bosnian Muslim population.”

The ICTY has now followed suit in convicting Mladić of genocide and sentencing him to life imprisonment for his crimes. The actual Mladić Judgment is certain to be the subject of careful future scrutiny, but the summary delived by Judge Orie leaves no doubt that it is consistent with the ICTY’s prior genocide determinations.

In other words, as discussed above, a succession of courts have now held that a genocide was perpetrated at Srebrenica. As Nehemiah Robinson correctly noted, once the term genocide became a legal term, its interpretation was a matter for the courts, and the courts have spoken clearly and unambiguously.


Ultimately, however, and equally important, there are also moral considerations—a moral imperative, as it were—that compel the conclusion that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide.

On the night of August 3-4, 1943, my brother, my mother’s son, was murdered in one of the Birkenau gas chambers together with his father and his—our—grandparents.

I cannot in good conscience condemn the perpetrators of the genocide in which my brother and my grandparents perished unless I also condemn the perpetrators of all other acts of genocide, including the genocide that took place at Srebrenica.

I cannot in good conscience mourn my brother as a victim of genocide unless I similarly mourn all other victims of genocide, including the victims at Srebrenica.

Several years ago, one of my students in my class on the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at Cornell Law School was Adisada Dudic, who had spent three years as a child in Bosnian refugee camps with her mother and sisters.

“My home country is destroyed,” Adisada wrote in her paper for my course, “my family members are scattered all over the world, thousands of Bosnian women and girls were raped and ravaged, thousands of Bosnian men and boys were tortured in concentration camps and buried in mass graves, and so many of my people were slaughtered by an enemy hand that was out to get every single person that self-identified as a Bosnian Muslim.”

It is unconscionable and reprehensible for anyone to tell Adisada that the horrors to which her fellow Bosnian Muslims—including members of her own family—were subjected at Srebrenica did not constitute a genocide, just as it is unconscionable and reprehensible for anyone to deny the genocide in which my brother, my grandparents, and millions of other European Jews were annihilated.

Reacting to Churkin’s July 2015 veto of the Srebrenica resolution, Adisada said: “You are basically telling people who watched their loved ones die that the person they buried never existed. That their life never mattered. That kind of insult is what victimizes the survivors to this day—an unapologetic dismissal of their pain. People just want their grief to be acknowledged and for the crime to be called its proper name.”

Recognizing other genocides for what they are in no way diminishes remembrance of the Holocaust. On the contrary, understanding that other racial, ethnic, religious or national groups can be subjected to unbridled hatred and atrocities provides a shared understanding of suffering. When the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre shared her family’s Holocaust experiences with a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, he realized for the first time that there were others in the world who appreciated the enormity of what he had gone through. This is as it should be. Refusing to call a genocide a genocide belittles its victims’ agony.

Just as we remember and commemorate the Holocaust as a genocide, the dead of other genocides, including the Srebrenica Genocide, deserve the dignity and justice of having the enormity of the crimes that took their lives duly recognized by the international community.


Warsaw Ghetto museum planned for hospital whose patients were sent to death camp

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — The Polish government wants to create a Warsaw Ghetto museum in a hospital that had its patients and workers sent to the Treblinka death camp.

“The creation of the Warsaw Ghetto museum is in the initial phase of preparation, both substantively and organizationally,” the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage told JTA in a statement.

The museum planned for the former Bersohn and Bauman Hospital building in Warsaw will be developed in cooperation with the Jewish Historical Institute. In its statement, the ministry did not set a timetable for the opening.

“This is a very good initiative both for commemorating the Warsaw residents who were separated by the wall and the first Warsaw uprising,” said Polish-Jewish activist Piotr Kadlcik, whose immediate family died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Piotr Pazinski, the editor in chief of Midrasz magazine, said he was pleased the ghetto would be commemorated in Warsaw but wanted further details.

“And I hope for a place devoted to the life and death of the Warsaw Ghetto from the inside, the voices of the people who lived and died in it,” he said.

Bersohn and Bauman Hospital began operating in 1878. Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish humanitarian who accompanied more than 190 orphaned children when they were transported to the Nazi camp Treblinka, worked there during the years 1905 to 1912.

In the interwar years, the hospital was taken over by the Society of Friends of Children, and its expansion was financed by the Jewish community and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. During World War II, the hospital was located within the ghetto before its location was changed twice.

In 1942, its patients and workers were taken to Treblinka, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where 700,000 to 900,000 people were killed. After the war, the Central Committee of Polish Jews took over the hospital building.