Tillerson visits Holocaust Museum with family

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson quietly visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Saturday afternoon with his wife and two other family members, The Washington Post reported.

According to The Post, Tillerson and his family spent several hours touring the permanent exhibit of the museum in the nation’s capital.

Tillerson’s visit came after a tumultuous week for the White House, in which Press Secretary Sean Spicer drew intense criticism for falsely claiming Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons.

The president’s press spokesman also referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

While Spicer apologized for his remarks, the Anti-Defamation League offered to host an educational session on the Holocaust for Spicer and other White House staffers.

US President Donald Trump’s young administration has managed to create controversy over Holocaust-related matters more than once.

The White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in January, drew the ire of many because it made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism.

Several of Trump’s deputies went on to defend the statement amidst outrage from Jewish groups and others.

Tillerson’s tour was on the final days of Passover, when Jews worldwide retell the story of the ancient Jews’ exodus from Egypt.

The Virginia Tech Professor and Holocaust Survivor Who Saved His Students’ Lives

According to Iswhar Puri, the first thing you’d notice about Liviu Librescu was his posture. “He was ramrod straight” and had “a spine of steel,” said Puri, who is now the dean of the engineering faculty at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. At the time of his death, which occurred 10 years ago this Sunday, Librescu was a slight 76-year-old in declining physical health—but he never slouched, carrying himself with an assuredness that reflected deeper aspects of his character. Said Puri, “If you wanted an honest answer to something, if you wanted someone to say to you that you must be crazy…or if you wanted somebody to tell you in a straightforward way that you should do something or not do something, he was the man.”

On the morning of April 16, 2007, Puri was the head of the engineering science and mechanics department at Virginia Tech University, and Librescu, who had taught in Blacksburg since 1985, was one of his professors. Librescu was teaching a solid mechanics class in room 204 of the university’s Norris Hall when Sueng-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior, began a rampage that claimed the lives of 32 people. The professor’s actions are familiar by now, but no easier to comprehend even a full decade later. According to eyewitnesses, at the sound of gunshots Librescu blocked the door of his classroom, which could not be locked from the inside. Cho eventually forced his way in and shot Librescu with a semi-automatic pistol—but by that point, 22 of his students had already climbed out a window and jumped to safety.

Liviu Librescu, date unknown. (Librescu family via Getty Images)
In a public Facebook post written last week, one of Librescu’s students recalls looking down from a second-story window ledge, and then stealing a final glimpse of Librescu standing alone, trying to secure the lecture hall door. As the post explains, that student’s future would include a master’s degree, a risky but inevitably satisfying career change, and a family of her own. At the time the post’s author last saw him, Librescu would have only a few moments to live.

Liviu Librescu was born in Ploisti, an industrial city in eastern Romania, in 1930. Like millions of other Jews across Europe, fascism and communism would shape the course of Librescu’s life, as it would for millions of other Jews across Europe. Romania’s newly formed right-wing government officially allied with the Nazis in 1940, and ordered the deportation of much the country’s Jewish population to the country’s eastern fringes the following year. The Nazis and their Romanian allies murdered an estimated 270,000 Romanian Jews during the Holocaust, out of a pre-war population of 728,000.

During the Holocaust, Librescu’s family was deported to the far eastern region of Transdniestria, then sent to the ghetto in the city of Foscani. Zvi Yaakov Zwiebel, the rabbi at Virginia Tech’s Chabad student center, which is now named in Librescu’s honor, says that the future professor’s experience in Foscani helped inspire him to become an aeronautical engineer. “He was always fascinated about how the birds flew in and out of the ghetto, and that’s what motivated him to get in the aerospace field,” said Zwiebel. “He loved this idea of freedom, whether it’s freedom of religion or freedom of intellect.”

Librescu earned an engineering Ph.D. in Romania after the war. As Puri explains, his research work delved into how the material composition of an aircraft affects its operational limits. Librescu studied how materials performed under flight stresses like heat and air friction, and his work was aimed at “making sure [those materials] don’t fail under very critical operating conditions,” Puri explained. Since Librescu was one of his country’s leading aerospace engineers, Romania’s communist regime conscripted him into several high-end military projects, including an effort to produce an indigenous fighter aircraft. Librescu warned that the plane was unflyable as designed, a fact proven during an early flight test. The program was scrapped soon after that.

The fighter plane episode, Librescu’s refusal to pledge fealty to the regime of Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and his open desire to emigrate to Israel, all cost him dearly. He was fired from his position at Romania’s Academy of Sciences some time in the early 70s. Although he was banned from publishing in Romania, he succeeded in secretly trafficking an influential academic paper to a research journal in the Netherlands at immense personal risk, and would entrust visiting western European scientists with his latest research, which was unpublishable in his own country. In the late ’70s, the Israeli government interceded on Librescu’s behalf, and prime minister Menachem Begin, who also had painful first-hand experience of both fascism and communism, personally advocated for the scientist’s right to emigrate. He arrived in Israel, the country where he is now buried, in 1978, and taught at Tel Aviv University and the Technion in Haifa before moving on to Virginia Tech in 1985. He arrived for what was supposed to be a single sabbatical year, but ended up staying for much longer. (He’s now buried in Ra’anana.)

Simply existing as a Jew in 20th-century Eastern Europe had denied Librescu the freedom he’d sought for nearly his entire life. Of all places, he found what he was looking for in Blacksburg, a somewhat isolated university town four hours southwest of Washington, D.C. As Puri describes him, Librescu was a committed Jew, and also something of a luddite. His wife, Marlena, who died four years ago, handled nearly everything email or computer-related, and gradually became a working partner, an academic collaborator of sorts. “When you talked to them you lost sense of where one identity ended and one began,” Puri recalled.

Marlena Librescu is comforted by her son Joe during the funeral of Liviu Librescu in Ra’anana, Israel, April 20, 2007. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

Librescu developed a reputation as an almost obsessively prolific participant in academic conferences, perhaps a result of being cut off from the scientific community for so much of his career (at the time of his death, Librescu was preparing papers for three conferences he planned on attending over the summer of 2007). He had close friendships in Blacksburg. Pier Marzocca, a former Virginia Tech professor who is now associate dean of the school of engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, described Librescu as “a father figure” in an email. Marzocca wrote that he ate with Librescu nearly every Sunday night for four years. Librescu frequently shared anecdotes of his time back in Europe, something his colleagues seemed to welcome: After all, the Romanian had seen more of the world and its possibilities than any of them had seen, or probably wanted to. “Although now 10 years later those memories are somewhat blending in, some of these conversations are very vivid and his way of living is very much inspirational to me,” Marzocca said.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Librescu’s actions—for which he was posthumously awarded Romania’s highest civilian honor—were a much needed source of hope and resilience for a shattered Virginia Tech community. Rabbi Zwiebel arrived in Blacksburg two years after the shooting, a time when memories of the April 16th massacre were still raw. Zwiebel has drawn on Librescu’s example in his own work on campus over the years. “We try to teach this selfless legacy to the students, and that’s what Torah’s about,” Zwiebel said. “Sometimes things are bigger than us.”

Part of Zwiebel’s responsibilities include helping to commemorate the massacre and Librescu’s heroism. On April 24, the 28th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar—which is both Yom HaShoah and the 10th Hebrew anniversary of Librescu’s death—the Virginia Tech Chabad house is organizing a memorial event in which a Holocaust survivor and one of Librescu’s two sons will speak. “You try to take a Jewish perspective of what we can learn out of it, and how we can grow out of it,” Zwiebel said of the 2007 shooting.

Ten years later, perhaps Librescu’s greatest legacy is that he gave nearly two-dozen people a chance to continue their lives. Even after a decade of thinking over his friend and colleague’s decision to barricade his classroom door, Puri is still in awe of Librescu’s contribution to the world—something which, as Puri notes, is almost impossible to really measure. “I don’t think that you’re saving the person momentarily. You’re saving a life. You’re saving 22 lives. Those 22 lives then go on to contribute to society. They multiply. Those 22 lives go on into other generations. I mean that’s what’s mind-blowing about what Liviu did. It’s quite possible that some of the students who were students 10 years ago have kids today. It’s because of one man, right?”

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

OS ANGELES (JTA) – A one-hour TV program airing next week on PBS links brings advanced scientific techniques to bear on an incredible Holocaust escape story.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel,” a “Nova” production to be shown April 19, sheds new light on the attempt by 80 imprisoned men and women — mostly Lithuanian Jews — to make a break for freedom in the face of Nazi bullets. The show documents the application of scientific methods to verify what would otherwise be a nearly unbelievable story.

The documentary is set in and around Vilna, the Yiddish and Hebrew designation for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. At its peak, before World War II and the Holocaust, the city boasted a Jewish population of some 77,000, had 105 synagogues, the largest Jewish library in the world and six daily Jewish newspapers.

The vigorous Jewish life in Vilna started to decline in 1940, when the Soviet Union absorbed Lithuania. It was almost completely destroyed after German armies attacked Russia in 1941, quickly conquering Lithuania.

Within a year Nazis shot and killed – in the days before Auschwitz-type gas chambers – most of the Jews and tossed their corpses into huge pits in the nearby Ponar Forest, initially dug by the Soviets to store fuel and ammunition. One pit alone held 20,000 to 25,000 corpses.

In late 1943, with Russian armies advancing from the east and partisans attacking German supply lines in surrounding forests, Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin decided to cover up the monumental massacre by ordering that all the bodies be cremated.

The Germans ordered the region’s surviving Jews, along with some Russian prisoners of war, to first chop down large trees in the forests, cut them into planks, form huge layers of wood, spread the bodies between the layers and then set them aflame. Methodically, the Germans formed 10 “burning brigades,” each consisting of 80 prisoners, mainly Jewish.

After a day’s work, the “burners” were held in pits and their feet shackled. One such unit, consisting of 76 men and four women, decided it was duty bound to pass on the truth to the world and future generations.

The prisoners freed their legs by cutting the shackles with a smuggled-in file and, for the next 76 days, using only spoons and their hands, carved out a 2-by-2-foot-wide tunnel extending 130 feet.

April 15, 1944, the last day of Passover, was set for the escape. As the first prisoners left the tunnel, guards opened fire and killed almost the entire group. But 12 made it out and cut through the wire fence. They joined a detachment of partisans commanded by the legendary Abba Kovner.

At the end of the war, all but one of the escapees were still alive and eventually settled elsewhere, mainly in pre-state Israel and the United States.

Among the thousands, if not millions, of post-Holocaust remembrances, the story of the Vilna escapees was met with widespread skepticism even by the future wives and children of the 11 survivors, said historian Richard Freund, who is prominently featured in the documentary.

The skepticism was fueled by the absence of any physical evidence of the alleged tunnel. Lithuania — already beleaguered by charges of its wartime collaboration with the Germans — showed little enthusiasm for further investigations.

In recent years, however, with a change of attitude by a new generation of Lithuanians, their government was ready to seek the truth about the Holocaust and invite outside experts to participate in the endeavor.

An initial contact was Jon Seligman, a leading researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Freund, of the University of Hartford, also was interested — he had directed archaeological projects at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, as well as at six ancient sites in Israel. In 2014, the two scholars decided to cooperate on the project, spurred by their similar ancestral descent from Vilna Jews. A third member of the documentary team with Jewish roots in Eastern Europe was Paula Apsell, the senior producer for “Nova.”

Seligman and Freund had initially set their sights on exploring the fate of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, once the center of Jewish worship and scholarship, which had been destroyed by the Germans. The Soviets later razed the remains and built a school there.

The two scholars — backed by other experts and teams of young volunteers — made some dramatic discoveries at the Great Synagogue site, but also were intrigued by reports on the escape tunnel.

In approaching the latter, the project leaders ruled out using the traditional method of digging into an archaeological site with spades and machines.

“Traditional archaeology uses a highly destructive method,” Freund told JTA. “You only have one chance to get it right and you can’t repeat an experiment. Additionally, in our case, we were determined not to desecrate the site and victimize the dead a second time.”

Instead, the teams used two noninvasive techniques that are widely employed in gas and oil explorations. One approach was through Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, which uses radar pulses to return images of objects found beneath the earth’s surface. The results were analyzed in Los Angeles by geophysicist Dean Goodman, who developed the GPR software.

In the second approach, called Electrical Resistivity Tomography, or ETR, scientists investigate sub-surface materials through their electrical properties. The same technique is widely used in medical imaging of the human body.

Thanks to these techniques, in 2016 the investigators were able to scientifically confirm the existence and dimensions of a wartime escape tunnel, as JTA reported at the time. The New York Times listed the feat as one of the top science stories of the year.

One of the successful tunnel escapees was Shlomo Gol, whose son Abraham (Abe) was born in a displaced persons camp in Munich, Germany. The elder Gol died in 1986 at the age of 77, and his son will be 68 in July. The family initially immigrated to Israel, then moved to the United States.

Abe Gol, who lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, told JTA that friends recalled his father as a young man full of life and as a natural leader. However, the father young Abe knew “withdrew within himself” and did not speak of his experiences.

The little he learned of his father’s past came in two ways: One was the annual reunion, on the last day of Passover, held by escapees who had settled in Israel. At dinner, when shots of vodka loosened tongues, the men talked of the past, paying no attention to the boy listening in.

In later years, Gol discovered that his father had kept a written record of his past, which the son translated into English. One small recollection from the diary: the persistent stink from the combination of kerosene and tar the prisoners had to pour on the wood pyres to fan the flames.

At the time of the tunnel’s discovery, Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of this tunnel enables us to present not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

With the deaths of the last eyewitnesses of the Holocaust, Freund said, historians will have to rely increasingly on yet unknown scientific and technological advances to preserve and enlarge our knowledge of the great tragedy of the 20th century.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel” will air April 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 8 p.m. Central time. Check your local PBS station for details.

7 new books about the Holocaust you should read, according to scholars

(JTA) — From Anne Frank’s diary to Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” books about the Holocaust remain some of the most powerful and well-known pieces of literature published in the past century. Books have the power to educate about the Shoah’s unimaginable horrors and bring to life the stories of its victims, as well as unearth hidden details about wartime crimes.

Ahead of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, JTA reached out to Jewish studies scholars across the country seeking their recommendations on recently published books dealing with the Holocaust. Their picks, all published in the past three years, include an investigation into the 1941 massacre of Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne (two scholars recommended the same book on that topic), a critical examination of theories trying to explain the Holocaust and a look at how Adolf Hitler saw Islam as a religion that could be exploited for anti-Semitic purposes.

“The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne,” by Anna Bikont (Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Joshua Zimmerman (Courtesy of Zimmerman); Barbara Grossman (Courtesy of Grossman)
The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
By Anna Bikont

Joshua Zimmerman, professorial chair in Holocaust studies and East European Jewish history and professor of history at Yeshiva University, writes:

This book, a winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award, was written by a Polish journalist who discovered she was Jewish in her 30s and became deeply engaged in the topic of Polish-Jewish relations. After Jan T. Gross’ controversial book “Neighbors: the Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland” (2000) proved that the local Poles — not the Germans — committed the massive pogrom in that town in July 1941, Bikont went to Jedwabne and its surroundings, interviewing eyewitnesses to the crime in the years 2000 to 2003, shedding new light on the character of the perpetrators, bystanders and the intricate way the crime was concealed for 50 years after the Holocaust. It is written in the form of a journal of the author’s travels and conversations with people.

Barbara Grossman, professor of drama at Tufts University and former U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council board member, also recommended Bikont’s book. She writes:

I first read about the Jedwabne massacre in Gross’ book and still remember being riveted by the cover image of a barn engulfed in flames. Perhaps because my paternal grandfather was from Łomża, Poland — a city relatively near Jedwabne — I felt a particular connection to this atrocity, as well as gratitude to him for leaving the country years before the Holocaust. I directed Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s “Our Class,” a play loosely based on the events in Jedwabne, at Tufts in 2012, and remain fascinated by this story of greed, treachery and cruelty, a horrific crime in which as many as 1,600 Jewish men, women and children perished. Bikont’s magnificent work of investigative journalism details her meticulous reconstruction of the massacre and its subsequent decades-long coverup. It is a sobering and compelling account of anti-Semitism, denial and isolated acts of heroism.

“The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust,” by Lisa Moses Leff (Courtesy of Oxford University Press); Jonathan Sarna (Uriel Heilman)
The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 2015)
By Lisa Moses Leff

Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, writes:

This award-winning book recounts the amazing story of Zosa Szajkowski, the scholar who rescued archives that might otherwise have been lost in the Holocaust. Szajkowski wrote numerous books and articles, but was also a known archive thief, caught red handed stealing valuable papers from the New York Public Library. Leff’s meticulous account reads like a thriller, yet conveys invaluable information concerning the fate of Jewish archives during and after the Shoah, and why removal of archives from their original home matters. Brandeis University and my late father, Bible scholar Nahum Sarna, play bit parts in this story. I remember Szajkowski, too; in fact, I took a class with him as a Brandeis undergraduate. He told lots of stories in class about his archival experiences during and after World War II, but it was only after reading Leff’s wonderful book that I understood “the rest of the story.”

“Why? Explaining the Holocaust,” by Peter Hayes (Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company); David Engel (Courtesy of Engel)
Why? Explaining the Holocaust (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017)
By Peter Hayes

David Engel, professor of Holocaust studies and chair of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, writes:

I recommend this book for a lucid, well-crafted introduction to the history of the Holocaust. Unlike most works on the Holocaust written for a general audience, which tend to emphasize how the Holocaust was carried out and experienced, Hayes’ book concentrates, as its title suggests, on helping readers to understand why the Holocaust occurred when it did, where it did, in the manner it did and with the results it produced. It offers readers a window onto how historians go about finding answers to these questions, why some answers turn out to be more compelling than others and how new evidence can change understanding.

“Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture, by Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner and Todd Presner (eds.) (Courtesy of Harvard University Press); Omer Bartov (Courtesy of Bartov)
Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016)
Edited by Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner and Todd Presner

Omer Bartov, professor of European history and German studies at Brown University, writes:

This book comes out a quarter of a century after the publication of Saul Friedlander’s crucial edited volume, “Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the Final Solution” (1992), which had challenged the conventional discourse on the mass murder of the Jews and critiqued its popular representation. The current volume attempts to grapple with the wider impact of Holocaust scholarship, fiction and representation in the intervening period. It includes fascinating essays on new modes of narrating the Shoah, the insights provided by the “spatial turn” on research and understanding of the event and the politics of exceptionality, especially the contextualization of the Holocaust within the larger framework of modern genocide. As such, it enables readers to understand both the ongoing presence of the Holocaust in our present culture and the different ways in which it has come to be understood in the early 21st century.

“Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,” by David Motadel (Courtesy of Belknap Press); Susannah Heschel (Courtesy of Heschel)
Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (Belknap Press, 2014)
By David Motadel

Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, writes:

This is a major work of scholarship, examining the various ways the Nazis fostered a relationship with Muslims both before the war and especially during the war. Jeffrey Herf wrote a book a bit earlier, “Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World,” detailing Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda sent, in Arabic translation, to North African Muslims, and Motadel expands the range of influence: that Hitler understood Islam as a warrior religion that could be exploited for propaganda efforts and to serve in both the Wehrmacht and the SS. The indoctrination of Muslims with Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda may well have had effects lasting long past the end of the war, a topic that deserves additional attention.

Michael Rothberg, professor of English and comparative literature and chair in Holocaust studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes:

Teege’s memoir, published in German in 2013 and translated into English in 2015, is a fascinating contribution to the discussion of the ongoing impact of the Holocaust over multiple generations. When she was in her late 30s, Teege discovered that her grandfather was a Nazi war criminal. And not just any Nazi: he was Amon Goeth, the commandant of Plaszów depicted in the film “Schindler’s List.” Because Teege is herself a black German woman — the daughter of a Nigerian father and a white German mother who was herself the daughter of Goeth’s mistress — her story takes on additional resonance. Intercut with contextualizing passages by Sellmair, a journalist, Teege’s memoir both confronts historical conundrums about race, reconciliation and responsibility for the past, and offers glimpses of very contemporary questions about the contours of German identity. Her earnest reckoning with family and national history can inspire us all to reflect on what it means to be implicated in histories of racial violence, even those we have not participated in directly.

“They Were Like Family to Me: Stories,” by Helen Maryles Shankman (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster); Jeremy Dauber (Courtesy of Dauber)
They Were Like Family to Me: Stories (Scribner, 2016)
By Helen Maryles Shankman

Jeremy Dauber, director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and professor of Yiddish at Columbia University, writes:

Writing literature about the Holocaust is many things, but it is never easy; and writing Holocaust literature in the vein of magic realism is more difficult yet. It risks taking the great horror of the 20th century and rendering it ungrounded, imaginative, even — God forbid — whimsically slight. But when a skillful writer pulls it off — David Grossman, for example, and now Shankman — the fantastic casts illuminating and terrible light on the dark shadows of the history of the war against the Jews. The stories in her collection are by no means factual in all respects. But they contain unmistakable truth.

Anne Frank’s final days, as told by her former classmate

A — Looking through the barbed wire of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 14-year-old Nanette Konig could barely recognize her friend and classmate from Amsterdam, Anne Frank.

Both girls had been caught by the Nazis in the Dutch capital and were sent to starve to death in a place Konig describes today as “hell on Earth.” Both were emaciated when they saw each other again in different sections of the same German camp in 1944.

“She looked like a walking skeleton, just like me,” Konig, one of the few living friends of the teenage diarist, told JTA in a video interview from her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 6, which was her 88th birthday.

As more and more Holocaust survivors die each year, Konig was compelled a decade ago to break her long silence and join a diminishing group of witnesses who now tell their story in the media and at schools. Her lectures, which Konig says she has delivered to thousands of students on three continents, are something that “survivors owe to the victims.”

But it’s also her way of repaying Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who comforted Konig in the aftermath of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, even as he was grieving for his own two daughters and wife.

Otto Frank, who edited the diaries his daughter wrote while the family was in hiding into the best-selling “The Diary of a Young Girl,” met Konig in 1945 at a rehabilitation center in eastern Holland. Konig, who was 16 and weighed only 60 pounds, was brought there following the Allies’ liberation of Bergen-Belsen — “a hell where people were not exterminated immediately, but died from hunger, dysentery, typhus, cold, exhaustion, beatings, torture and exposure,” she says.

Yet Konig was one of the lucky ones to survive. Anne Frank and her older sister, Margot, were among the estimated 50,000 who perished at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 after arriving there from Auschwitz. Their mother, Edith, died at Auschwitz a month before her daughters, just three weeks before the Red Army liberated the death camp.

Otto Frank, the sole survivor from his family, already knew his daughters and wife were dead when he came to the rehabilitation center to visit Konig, who is also the only survivor from her family. Konig said he wanted to know as much as possible about his family’s last weeks.

Listening to her stories and seeing her emaciated physique “visibly caused Otto Frank a lot of pain,” Konig recalled.

But despite his grief Frank, who died in 1980, “gave me support, encouraged me at a point in my life when I had no one,” she said. “He was a very special man and I will always be grateful for the consolation he offered me.”

Like many of Anne Frank’s schoolmates and friends, Konig recalled the diarist as a “sunny, smiley child.”

But unlike most of them, Konig also witnessed Anne “change into an adult” in a matter of weeks at Bergen-Belsen, she said.

“We had a childhood and then we had no adolescence,” she said. “We simply became grown-ups overnight. It was the only way to survive.”

During their meeting, Otto Frank told Konig that he intended to edit his daughter’s diaries — there were three of them — into a book. During their conversation, he said he was still thinking of omitting some of the personal details that Anne included in the diaries, including her tense relationship with her mother and her account of getting her first period.

Ultimately, though, he included these details — countless readers of Anne Frank’s book regard them as crucial to achieving the personal connection many of them feel to her.

“The Diary of a Young Girl” is perhaps the world’s most-read manuscript about the Holocaust; it has been translated into 70 languages in dozens of countries.

After the war, Konig worked as a bilingual (English-Dutch) secretary in England. She married a British man and moved to Brazil in the 1950s. She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren, as well as several great-grandchildren.

But it wasn’t until a decade ago that Konig felt the drive to bear testimony — similar to what Otto Frank felt when he published Anne’s diary and set up the educational Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Switzerland.

“I saw he was the exception,” Konig said of Otto Frank. “Most Holocaust survivors decided not to talk about it, maybe it was too painful. Maybe it was too complicated. In the Netherlands there was a sense that Jews shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about their own tragedy when everyone suffered.”

Gradually, Konig began speaking at schools – first the ones her grandchildren attended. Then she was invited to speak about the Holocaust on Brazilian television and other media. She went on to speak at schools in the United States and Europe, and give interviews to leading media in her native Netherlands.

In 2015, Konig published a book in Brazil titled “I Survived the Holocaust.” It has since been published in Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. She said she is looking to have it published in English as well.

“It became clear to me that we, the survivors, have a duty to the victims, even when it’s an unpleasant one,” Konig said.

The Jews, she said, “are not so vulnerable anymore in a world that has a strong Israel and its robust voice.”

But other minorities, she adds, “are as vulnerable as we were.”

In her talks at high schools, Konig tries to impress upon her listeners how the Holocaust was the result of a democratic transition of power.

“Two weeks after he took office,” she said of Adolf Hitler, “he revoked the constitution, closed parliament and declared himself a dictator. When your time comes to vote, be sure to exercise it wisely.”

When she speaks in the Netherlands, Konig said part of what she regards as her duty is to talk about the checkered history of the population of that country, where both Nazi collaboration and heroism were prevalent.

The Netherlands has an outsize number of Righteous among the Nations — non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. More than a fifth of all the 26,513 Righteous recognized by Israel are from the Netherlands, a nation of 17 million people. Its tally of 5,595 Righteous is the second-largest in the world after Poland’s 6,706.

But the Netherlands also has the highest death rate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. The genocide, which resulted in the murder of 75 percent of the country’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 140,000, was facilitated by Dutch police, collaborators and headhunters, and was followed by callous treatment of those who survived.

Thousands were required to pay taxes on properties while they were in camps or in hiding, and fined for missing payments because of this reason.

Konig herself had to pay the equivalent of thousands of dollars in medical bills for her own rehabilitation after returning from Bergen-Belsen, she said.

This appears to have left her bitter toward the Dutch state.

“I never went back and I never considered going back to that country, where most of the Jews were killed,” she said. “In fact, I left as soon as I could.”

Yet Konig draws a distinction between the country and its people.

“I don’t think the Dutch wanted to kill us. They were acting out of fear,” she said. “And people will do most everything when they are afraid.”

Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi, a Holocaust Survivor Himself, Calls Syrian Crisis ‘a Holocaust’

Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi, a Holocaust Survivor Himself, Calls Syrian Crisis ‘a Holocaust’

On Thursday, two days after an airstrike and chemical attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun by Syrian government forces, which left over 70 people dead and injured more than 500, Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi spoke up. Speaking to Army Radio, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the current chairman of Yad Vashem who is also the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, said, “What is happening in Syria is [also] a holocaust. Not [just] from today, for six years a holocaust has fallen on them.”

Some estimates state that nearly 500,000 Syrians, including more than 20,000 children, have died from the country’s civil war, which still rages on after more than six years.

As a child, Lau was liberated from Buchenwald. He was one of the camp’s youngest surviving prisoners. He was 8 years old.

Lau called for an emergency Knesset session and for Israel and the rest of the world to “put aside political considerations that may be keeping them from intervening in the civil war, joining others in Israel who have called for action in the wake of the deadly attack,” reported The Times of Israel.

“We do not enjoy bloodshed, this is human blood,” said Law. “Your neighbor does not have to share your nationalism or worldview; he was created in the image of God.”

Lau statement came hours before President Trump bombed the Syrian air base that the U.S. says is responsible for the chemical attacks.

A look at Passover during the years of the Holocaust

Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on April 24, a week after the end of Passover.

This year, Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center created an online photo exhibit commemorating the celebration of the significant spring holiday before, during and after the Holocaust.

Called “And You Shall Tell Your Children,” the online exhibit is a collection of photographs and Passover artifacts, showing how Jews during the period of the Holocaust maintained their identities and observed the holiday.

The photographs and video testimony show European Jews baking matzah and celebrating the seders in their homes before the war, in the ghetto, and in displaced persons camps following the war.

New film on Nazi occupation of Channel Islands prompts disquieting questions for Brits

ONDON — When the Germans invaded the Channel Islands in June 1940, at least one resident was determined to show that she would not be intimidated. The ruler of Sark, Dame Sibyl Hathaway, received two German officers at her residence, making them walk the length of a long drawing room to greet her.

“Is there any need to be afraid of German officers?” she responded in perfect German.

Sark is one of the small cluster of islands — an archipelago which includes Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney — which lie in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. Semi-independent, they were nonetheless the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Nazis.

Hathaway’s actions appeared to encapsulate what one observer later termed the “icy contempt” shown by the Channel Islanders towards their occupiers. She served as an example of the indomitable British spirit which led the country to stand alone against Hitler in the summer of 1940.

Some of the islanders paid a high price for their refusal to buckle under the Nazi jackboot. Few more so than Louisa Gould, a Jersey shopkeeper who perished in the gas chambers at Ravensbruck after the Germans discovered she had been sheltering an escaped Russian prisoner of war, one of the thousands forced to work in slave labor camps building concrete fortifications which still stand today.

Last week, “Another Mother’s Son,” which tells the story of Gould’s heroism, opened in cinemas throughout the United Kingdom. Her motivations for helping Feodor Burriy, a young man in his 20s, were simple.

Having lost one of her sons serving in the Royal Navy, she explained to a friend, “I had to do something for another mother’s son.”

But while Gould’s bravery was not unique, there is another, darker side to the story of the occupation, one in which the fate of the islands’ small Jewish population figures prominently. It is a story, moreover, which presents possibly uncomfortable answers to one of the great “what ifs” of Britain’s recent past: How would its people have behaved had the Swastika flown over London?

It is a subject which intrigues the media and historians. Last month, the BBC screened a five-part television adaptation of Len Deighton’s dystopian novel “SS-GB.” The Channel Islands’ experience suggests Britain may have displayed the same messy attributes — sullen acceptance by the majority, collaboration and courageous resistance by others — as their continental neighbors.

Much of the Channel Islands’ Jewish population had left for the British mainland prior to the Germans’ arrival. With Churchill’s war cabinet having decided that they were both indefensible and strategically unimportant, the islands had been demilitarized and a voluntary evacuation carried out in the fortnight before the first Luftwaffe planes landed on June 30, 1940.

Not a shot was fired and there were none of the atrocities which accompanied the Nazis’ march through Eastern Europe. Instead, as in France, the Germans sought to co-opt the assistance of the existing island authorities to help oil the wheels of the occupation. They were to find willing accomplices.

But while Hathaway found the sound of the Germans wiping their feet on her doormat reassuring — a possible indication of their civility, she later recalled thinking — the Jews of Guernsey and Jersey soon found their fears about the islands’ new masters amply justified.

Barely three months after the onset of the occupation, the Nazis demanded the first anti-Jewish measures: anybody with more than two Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew; all Jews were to be registered; and businesses owned by Jews were to be clearly marked as a “Jewish undertaking.”

None of that was surprising; more so was the manner in which the Channel Island authorities raised no objections. There was but one honorable exception. Sir Abraham Lainé, a member of the Guernsey parliament, refused to vote for the measures when they were presented to the Royal Court. Ambrose Sherwill, the island’s bailiff and president of the Controlling Committee which was the main point of contact between the Germans and the Channel Islands’ governments, later wrote of his shame at his failure to object, while defending his inaction on the basis that he believed all the Jews had already been evacuated.

Some Jews correctly sensed the impending danger and decided not to register. Others complied. Twelve Jews registered in Jersey, and a further five in Guernsey. As Madeline Bunting — whose 1995 book, “The Model Occupation,” delved into the murky story — suggested, “Their trust in the island authorities and their desire to be law abiding unwittingly led them into a noose which grew tighter.”

Further measures were soon announced. Businesses owned by Jews — including those who had already left the islands — were “Aryanized” and sold to non-Jews. Jews were barred from many jobs, had their radios confiscated, were banned from entering public buildings and were only allowed into shops for an hour in the afternoon.

At each stage, the Channel Islands’ leaders received the Germans’ orders without protest, passed them down the chain of command, and then faithfully reported back once they had been implemented. Indeed, as one expert on the occupation has argued, the official in Jersey who was chiefly responsible for enforcing the anti-Jewish measures, Chief Aliens Officer Clifford Orange, displayed “a troubling tendency… to overdo his job.”

Tragedy inevitably followed. In the spring of 1942, the Germans demanded the Guernsey government hand over three foreign Jews on the island: Therese Steiner and Auguste Spitz, who were born in Austria, and Marianne Grunfeld, who was Polish.

Delivered to the Nazis by the local Guernsey police, the three women were taken to France and murdered at Auschwitz within weeks.

The following year, many of the remaining Jews were deported as part of a wider transportation ordered by Hitler in revenge for a British commando raid on Sark.

With one exception, these Jews were not separated from their fellow Channel Islanders and spent the rest of the war in internment camps in France and Germany, thus allowing them to escape the fate of Steiner, Spitz and Grunfeld. Nonetheless, the persecution of the Channel Island Jews exacted a heavy toll. Victor Emmanuel committed suicide during the war; Nathan Davidson was admitted to a Jersey mental hospital in 1943 and died shortly afterwards; Samuel Simon was found dead of a suspected heart attack the night before he was due to be deported.

After their liberation in 1945, a silence fell over the islands about many of the inconvenient truths of the occupation. That silence lasted decades. Not until the early 1990s were files in London and Guernsey about the events of the war years finally opened.

In 1995, documents belonging to Clifford Orange were discovered in Jersey’s state archives and released. However, the grim realities were known to the government in London soon after the islands’ liberation.

In August 1945, a British intelligence report stated, “When the Germans proposed to put their anti-Jewish measures into force, no protest whatever was raised by any of the Guernsey officials and they hastened to give the Germans every assistance.” The author went on to note that, by contrast, there were considerable efforts made to protect the islands’ Freemasons.

No Channel Islanders were prosecuted for collaboration. Not Victor Carey, the baliff of Guernsey, who described the British military as “enemy forces” and offered £25 rewards to informers who betrayed those who daubed the V sign — a symbol of resistance — on buildings. Not John Leale, a Methodist minister who succeeded Sherwill as president of the Controlling Committee, and passed along the names of Jews collected by Carey’s police to the Germans. Nor Alexander Coutanche, Carey’s opposite number in Jersey, who claimed for years that the Channel Islands’ Jews had not suffered, but whose annotations on the Germans’ orders indicated his complicity.

No Channel Islanders were prosecuted for collaboration
“At the liberation,” believed Carey’s grandson, “the government didn’t know whether to hang my grandfather for treason, or knight him.”

It soon came to a decision. Carey, Coutanche and Jersey’s attorney general, Duret Aubin, all received honors. Their defenders claimed the authorities acted as a “buffer” between the Germans and the local population, but it was a buffer which was to offer little protection to Jews or, indeed, the 1,200 English-born islanders who were deported to internment camps.

Resistance was not easy. There was one German soldier for every three inhabitants, but small, unorganized and often symbolic acts of opposition to the Nazis did occur.

Some were more significant than others. Albert Bedane was honored by Yad Vashem in 2000 for sheltering a Dutch Jew, Mary Richardson, in the cellar of his home in St. Helier for over two years.

Last year, Dorothea Weber, was similarly honored. Hedwig Bercu, a Jewish Austrian who faked her own death, secretly lived with Weber from 1943 until the islands’ liberation. Their story has two curious twists. Weber was married to an Austrian refugee who was conscripted into the German army. The two women were aided by a German soldier, Kurt Ruemmele, who smuggled food to them. After the war, Bercu followed Ruemmele to Britain where he was interned as a prisoner of war. They later married and raised a family in Germany.

Many islanders, of course, could not conceive of the Nazis’ murderous intentions towards the Jews.

As Barbara Newman, who walked with Therese Steiner to Guernsey’s capital on the day of her deportation, later remarked, “Things like that don’t happen in England.”