Exhibition held at Polish parliament on destruction of Jewish cemeteries

Non-Jewish activist group displays photos of Jewish graveyards in Poland that have been repurposed as shooting ranges, playgrounds

Illustrative: Gravestones at the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw, Poland, on December 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Illustrative: Gravestones at the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw, Poland, on December 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

An exhibition highlighting the destruction of Jewish cemeteries in Poland opened at the country’s parliament.

A group of non-Jewish activists called Currently Absent launched the exhibition bearing the same title on Tuesday at the Sejm, the Polish parliament, where it was hosted by Speaker Marek Kuchcinski of the ruling Law and Justice party.

“This is an important project, we are honored to host in the Sejm,” Kuchciński said at the opening.

The exhibition by Currently Absent opened amid a debate in Poland over protests by Jewish groups on cemetery desecration. The group photographed translucent plastic slabs shaped like headstones, complete with Hebrew-language epitaphs, at sites that used to be Jewish cemeteries, resulting in eerie, ghost-like visuals that recall the locale’s history.

Last month, the World Zionist Organization strongly protested what it said was the destruction of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Klimontow, near Krakow, during the construction of a sports complex being funded by the state. The complex, comprising a basketball and soccer court, was inaugurated on September 6 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to the municipality’s website. It said the project has received more than $90,000 in government funding.

Separately, ultra-Orthodox followers of the Modzitz Hasidic dynasty, which is based in Israel, are fighting for access to the recently renovated courtyard of a school in Kazimierz Dolny, in eastern Poland, where they say their movement’s founder is buried.

The construction on what they say is the final resting place of Rabbi Yehezkel of Kuzhmir and others desecrated many Jewish graves, the movement’s followers have said.

Some 20,000 Jews are now living in Poland, which had 3.3 million Jews before the Holocaust.

Several groups are working to preserve Jewish cemeteries in Poland, including the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative and From the Depths.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/exhibition-held-at-polish-parliament-on-destruction-of-jewish-cemeteries/

After US teacher exposes her grandfather as Nazi collaborator, Lithuania listens

Long hailed as a national hero, Jonas Noreika has also been accused of murdering Jews during WWII. Now, his granddaughter has written a biography — and it’s far from exonerating

Silvia Foti visiting a friend in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 2013. (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

Silvia Foti visiting a friend in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 2013. (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

JTA — Barring unexpected delays, Silvia Foti is months away from fulfilling an old promise that’s become her life’s work: to write a biography of her late grandfather, who is a national hero in his native Lithuania.

Foti, a 60-year-old high school teacher from Chicago, made the pledge to her dying mother 18 years ago. She has spent a long time studying the life of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, as well as acquiring the writing skills necessary for chronicling it and finding a publisher.

The national hero, she and they insist, was a Nazi collaborator who helped murder thousands of Jews and steal their property.

The unpublished biography, which Foti summarized in a bombshell Salon article in July, split her own family. She said her father and his second wife asked Foti not to publish the book because it would “make Lithuania look bad.” And it would have distressed her mother if she were still alive — the author said this causes her “great pain.”

But the main significance of the book is the unprecedented attention it is bringing to Noreika’s alleged crimes in Lithuania, where a school has been named for him. Noreika died in 1947 while in the hands of the KGB. In 2000, former president Vytautas Landsbergis, the first head of state of independent Lithuania, attended the funeral of Noreika’s wife in Vilnius.

Last week, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius urged authorities to remove a memorial plaque to Noreika from the wall of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius – the first such call by a senior Lithuanian official on any of the country’s numerous monuments celebrating killers of Jews.

Jonas Noreika (Wikipedia)

Following the Salon article and coverage of it in The New York Times, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius, who for years has ignored calls by Jewish groups to remove the plaque, asked the state-funded and -operated Genocide and Resistance Research Center to review Noreika’s status as a national hero.

In her book, Foti explores how her grandfather issued orders to round up and kill the Jews after his appointment in 1941 as head of Siauliai County under the German Nazi occupation. And she presents evidence that he personally moved into the home of a Jewish family after its members had been killed, presumably at his order.

Foti recalled being shocked when she first learned of these allegations in 2013 while visiting the school in Sukionių named for her grandfather. The principal told her that “he got a lot of grief from the Jews” over the name, but assured her it “was all Soviet lies.”

That remark put her on a path to unravel the history of Lithuanian Jewry’s murder and her grandfather’s complicity in it. At first she had “hoped to exonerate him,” Foti said. Yet a wealth of evidence convinced her that her grandfather was complicit and actually “taught his Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them,” as she wrote in the Salon article.

It was a devastating discovery for a woman who said she grew up “adoring” her late grandfather. At Christmas dinners, her tight-knit family would leave an empty chair and glass of wine for him to acknowledge the absence of the handsome man in framed portraits who probably was tortured to death by the KGB at the age of 37.

Foti said she hopes the book helps “Lithuania finally take a good look at its own role in the Holocaust and stop blaming the Germans for everything.”

She has had to pray and seek guidance from God throughout her work on the book, she said.

The debate about Noreika and other collaborators who sided with the Nazis when they were fighting Russia during World War II goes to the heart of Lithuania’s national narrative that it was and is a victim of Russia. Seen through that prism, collaborators like Noreika or Juozas Ambrazevicius, the leader of a local pro-Nazi government, sided with Germany only to achieve independence for Lithuania.

But that narrative ignores the level of complicity by ordinary Lithuanians — many of whom viewed Jews as agents of communism — in the near total annihilation of the approximately 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania before the Holocaust, according to Efraim Zuroff, the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Chief Nazi-hunter of the US-based Jewish rights group Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Efraim Zuroff, during an interview with The Times of Israel on Wednesday, August 17, 2017 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Zuroff believes that the veneration of people like Noreika in some ways is rooted in a collective desire to whitewash Lithuanian complicity.

“You see this tendency across Eastern Europe,” he said, “but it’s strongest specifically in the countries with the highest amounts of genocide complicity.”

Lithuania is the only Nazi-occupied country noted by Israel’s Yad Vashem museum for its people’s “enthusiasm” for collaboration with Germany. And even when this enthusiasm “subsided … hostility towards Jews and denunciation persisted,” the museum says.

One example of this genocidal zeal occurred in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. At the Lietukis Garage, pro-German Lithuanian nationalists killed more than 50 Jewish men in 1941 by beating, hosing and then murdering them with iron bars, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some of the perpetrators then posed for pictures with the victims’ tortured bodies, providing some of the most memorable images of Nazi collaboration anywhere.

Aftermath of the Kovno, Lithuania (or Kaunas) ‘garage’ massacre in June of 1941, perpetrated by pro-German Lithuanians (public domain)

Foti’s research turned the plaque for Noreika into a symbol for the fight for recognition of that complicity. But the plaque is just one of numerous expressions of veneration for perpetrators.

Juozas Krikstaponis, a member of a death squad who killed thousands of Jews in Lithuania and Belarus, has a monument for him in the city of Ukmergė, 30 miles north of Vilnius.

The Nazi collaborator Kazys Skirpa, who represented his nation in Berlin during WWII, has a main street named after him in Kaunas, and his image features regularly in nationalist marches. An outspoken anti-Semite, Skirpa “proposed to solve ‘the Jewish problem’ not by genocide but by the method of expulsion from Lithuania,” the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania asserted in 2015.

Against this background, the developments around Foti’s article have surprised veteran campaigners for Holocaust recognition in Lithuania.

Zuroff acknowledged that Jewish Holocaust scholars like himself are “easy to dismiss” in Lithuania as Russian agents or disgruntled enemies of the Lithuanian nation. Even ethnic Lithuanians who try to confront complicity quickly get labeled as traitors.

In 2015, Zuroff co-authored a landmark book with Ruta Vanagaite, a successful writer who is not Jewish, that chronicles their joint travels across many of the killing sites of Jews that dot Lithuania and their history. “Our People” also features Vanagaite’s discovery that two of her close relatives, her grandfather and uncle, were active in the persecution of Jews.

But Vanagaite’s publishing house last year dropped her as the mainstream media attempted to discredit her. Landsbergis, who was Lithuania’s first leader after communism, published an op-ed on the Delfi news site calling Vanagaite a “moral scumbag” and “Mrs. Dushanski” — a reference to the Jewish KGB officer Nachman Dushanski.

Main entrance to the Ghetto of Vilnius in Lithuania, during WWII (Wikimedia Commons – public domain)

Vanagaite’s publishing house also recalled all of her books, only one of which was about the Holocaust. And the governing coalition in April introduced a bill banning the sale of books that “distort historical facts” in what was seen as direct reaction to some of her claims about WWII.

Whereas Vanagaite’s ties to Zuroff and liberal credentials made her vulnerable to smear campaigns, Foti “totally blindsided the Lithuanian government,” according to Grant Gochin, a Los Angeles-based financial adviser of Lithuanian-Jewish descent. Gochin is behind multiple lawsuits over his ancestral homeland’s veneration of war criminals, including Noreika.

“They can’t call Noreika’s daughter a Soviet agent, they can’t defend against her,” he said.

In this respect Foti, who also favors the removal of the plaque honoring her grandfather and other honors, landed a rare victory for Zuroff, Vanagaite and Gochin’s side. She also highlighted their fight to the outside world.

But the officials who said they favored steps to remove Noreika as a national hero were “clearly paying lip service,” Gochin said, “or it would’ve happened long ago.”

As long as Lithuanians are taught to revere people like Noreika, Gochin said, “the fight for historical accuracy is being lost.”

“Genocide,” he said, “needs to be acknowledged where it happened.”

Outsourced mass murder: How Topf & Sons engineered genocide from its boardroom

Among dozens of German companies that enabled the Holocaust, the opportunistic crematorium maker was indispensable, according to new book

Crematoria at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz I. Their construction was a prelude to much larger crematoria complexes later constructed at Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, in Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Crematoria at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz I. Their construction was a prelude to much larger crematoria complexes later constructed at Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, in Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

If the owners of Topf & Sons had been allowed to implement the firm’s vision, Auschwitz-Birkenau would have received the most high-tech crematorium system ever designed: a four-story tall “incineration chamber” to be fueled by heated corpses placed along conveyor belts. Instead of having to rely on the Third Reich’s existing small prisoner-operated “ovens,” the disposal process could finally become self-contained.

The plans drawn up by Topf & Sons for this nightmarish creation were never implemented, but  — by the time the family business filed a patent application for it — the company had already helped the Nazis dispose of more than one million corpses at several forced labor and death camps.

Founded in 1878, Topf & Sons’ initial expertise was in brewing and milling. The unprecedented carnage of World War I, however, opened new possibilities, pushing Topf to become the global leader in designing and constructing crematoria.

During World War II, Topf & Sons made itself indispensable to the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. The company’s products and know-how were deployed most lethally at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where piles of evidence — corpses — were disposed of in Topf “ovens.” The gas chambers were also ventilated by Topf technology for much of the camp’s existence.

‘Architects of Death,’ published in 2018 (courtesy)

“Auschwitz evolved from a backwater camp for Polish prisoners to a site for Soviet prisoners of war and finally into a vast forced labor complex and the heart of the planned extermination of the Jewish race in Europe,” wrote Bartlett. “And far from being mere ‘camp suppliers,’ it was the innovation and flexibility of Topf & Sons that enabled this transformation,” wrote the London-based journalist.

Bartlett’s book is framed around the elderly Hartmut Topf, great-grandson of the company’s founder. For many years, Topf sought to “separate himself” from his family’s infamous name, including by helping to create a memorial at the former headquarters of Topf & Sons.

As the book’s figure of redemption, Topf recalls a Jewish friend from his childhood named Hans Laessing. The boy and his family “disappeared” during the war, and Topf remained forever haunted. In addition to the atonement-seeking German, the book examines the motivations of Topf & Sons’ leaders during the Nazi era, as well as some of the firm’s SS liaisons.

“The challenge for me was to explore the human motives of the men involved,” Bartlett told The Times of Israel in an interview. “A book that was about the technology of building ovens would be a very grim and strange book — I wanted to make sure we in some way understood what these men were like, and why they behaved as they did.”

‘Prepared to put aside any human morality’

The Nazis’ genocidal program was an irresistible opportunity for brothers Ludwig and Ernst Topf, leaders of their namesake company throughout the 1930s and World War II.

Although fewer than two percent of the firm’s products were used in the killing facilities of Nazi camps, the owners and engineers of Topf & Sons went beyond the call of duty in servicing the SS. Assisting the process were more than 600 forced laborers brought in from the conquered east.

Crematoria room entrance at the former Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen, in Austria, 2013 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

During the first phase of the Auschwitz-Birkenau’s existence, the “stop-gap” in mass murder was the ability of the SS to destroy thousands of corpses on a weekly basis. Initially, fields of mass graves heaved open in the summer heat, pointing to the need for a more technological — and permanent — method for eradicating human remains.

To solve the problem, Topf & Sons installed its “eight-muffle ovens” inside several of the gassing-crematoria complexes. With the new ovens, thousands of corpses could be incinerated daily. In addition to building and maintaining the crematoria, Topf & Sons later created a ventilation system for the gas chambers, allowing the corpses to be cleared out in about one hour, as opposed to several hours.

“In the case of Topf & Sons, it was a handful of individuals — out for what they could get — be that money, safety from serving in the army, or career advancement,” Bartlett told The Times of Israel. “They were opportunists, prepared to put aside any human morality to advance themselves in the smallest of ways,” said Bartlett.

Like the Nazi regime they served, the masters of Topf & Sons became adept at deploying euphemisms, for example replacing the word crematoria with “incineration chambers.” Toward the end of the war, the firm applied for a patent to build a “continuous operation corpse incineration” system. Never constructed, the concept was based on using conveyor belts with heated corpses to maintain the flames.

Journalist and author Karen Bartlett (courtesy)

For abetting the Nazis’ genocide machine, neither Ludwig nor Ernst Topf were prosecuted after the war. Under Soviet rule, the company was confiscated and nationalized. Historians largely blame Soviet authorities for hindering prosecutions of the company and its leaders, including by withholding key evidence.

By 1955, the firm was no longer making “incineration chambers,” but focused on granary construction for farms. The privatization of Topf & Sons in 1993 was followed by bankruptcy and closure in 1996, some half a century after the firm’s heyday as Germany’s leading designer and manufacturer of crematoria.

‘This is happening all the time’

“Architects of Death” closes with the 2011 creation of a Holocaust memorial at the building that served as Topf & Sons’ headquarters, not far from Buchenwald.

Located in central Germany’s Erfurt, the memorial’s façade is marked with the words used by the firm in its correspondence with the SS: “Always happy to be at your service.” Inside the ordinary-looking office building, visitors can learn about Topf & Sons’ dubious accomplishments during the Third Reich.

Ruins of gas chamber-crematoria complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi death camp in Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

“We can show here how easy it is for a human being to ignore his responsibility towards his fellow human beings in his daily work,” said memorial director Annegret Schule.

Currently, the memorial is the only of its kind at the site of a German company involved in the Holocaust. Through windows in the former headquarters, Buchenwald can be seen in the distance — a world of horrors where thousands of prisoners’ corpses were destroyed in crematoria provided by Topf & Sons.

“If I go to the memorial in Buchenwald I cannot identify myself with the SS, because I would never have become a member,” Schule says in Bartlett’s book. “But I can relate to other people who harm other people by doing their normal jobs. This is happening all the time. Visitors are motivated to think about this. Processes that are completely normal within any companies have led to atrocities,” said the memorial director.

Following the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald, photographers captured some of the regime’s atrocities there, including mounds of corpses placed outside the Topf & Sons-built crematoria (public domain)

In her interview with The Times of Israel, Bartlett noted that Topf & Sons was one of many German companies involved in making Nazi atrocities possible.

“There are many companies who [could be researched in the manner of Topf & Sons],” said Bartlett, adding that she relied on German translators in piecing together the book from vast archival holdings.

“For example, Siemens built the electrical infrastructure for the camps, and Bosch installed the plumbing and water,” said Bartlett. “Kori was the other company which built crematoriums for the camps; it still exists but has never made any of its archive available to researchers. I believe that you can see the building where the company existed which made the Zyklon B gas in Hamburg, but there is no memorial there,” said Bartlett.

Asked why she thinks no other Holocaust-complicit German companies have erected memorials, Bartlett pointed out the difference between remotely located former Nazi camps, and major companies still in existence.

“[The camps] can be mentally put aside and forgotten about in some senses,” said Bartlett. “Companies are still in existence, in the hearts of towns and cities, and are therefore much more a part of normal life.”

Ruins of a gas chamber-crematoria complex at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, with stairs leading down to the undressing room, Poland, October 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/outsourced-mass-murder-how-topf-sons-engineered-genocide-from-its-boardroom/

73 years on, Italy awards Jewish Brigade medal of valor for fighting Nazis

For an Israeli-Italian captain in the IDF, the honor links family history to army service; Jewish Brigade vet says it’s ‘better late than never’

The Italian Ambassador to Israel, Gianluigi Benedetti, presents the Gold Medal for Military Valor to the IDF's 7th Armored Brigade on October 3, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Italian Ambassador to Israel, Gianluigi Benedetti, presents the Gold Medal for Military Valor to the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade on October 3, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

More than 70 years after soldiers from the British Army’s Jewish Brigade fought against Nazi forces in Italy, the Israel Defense Forces’ 7th Armored Brigade was awarded a medal of valor from the Italian government on their behalf.

The Jewish Brigade was formed in 1944 at the height of World War II, with the view that Jews had a right to fight the Nazis in light of the horrors being inflicted upon their coreligionists. The unit was made up mostly of Jews from British Mandate-era Palestine, along with a few Jewish and non-Jewish senior officers from the United Kingdom.

The ceremony was held Wednesday in Moshav Avihail, near Netanya, in a museum dedicated to the antecedent of the Jewish Brigade, the Jewish Legion, which fought against the Ottomans in World War I.

The Gold Medal for Military Valor, which was presented to the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade by the Italian government on October 3, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The 7th Armored Brigade was chosen to receive the award on behalf of the IDF as it has historical ties to the Jewish Brigade, many of whose members joined the armored brigade after World War II. Indeed, the first commander of the 7th Brigade, Shlomo Shamir, was a veteran of the Jewish Brigade.

The Jewish Brigade saw combat in Italy in the spring of 1945, toward the end of the war, fighting as part of Operation Grapeshot against German and Fascist Italian forces.

The soldiers of the Jewish Brigade were “young people who did not have their own state but found the generosity to fight and die for the freedom of others,” said Gianluigi Benedetti, the Italian ambassador to Israel, after presenting the medal.

A Jewish Brigade soldier carries an artillery shell. The Hebrew inscription on the shell reads, ‘A gift to Hitler.’

One of those young people was Piero Cividalli, who was born in Italy in 1926. His family left the country for then-Palestine in 1939 after the Fascists enacted anti-Semitic laws, barring Jews from schools, stripping them of their assets and restricting their travel, among other things.

He joined the Jewish Brigade at 18, but it was too late to fight in the war — he was still in basic training in Egypt during Operation Grapeshot. He traveled to his native Italy with the unit shortly after the war ended, in the summer of 1945. Over the next year, he was stationed throughout Europe, in Italy, Austria, Belgium and Holland.

“I was a soldier, I did soldier things — patrols, guarding. We helped with the refugees,” he said, in slightly accented Hebrew.

The Italian Ambassador to Israel, Gianluigi Benedetti, poses with veterans of the Jewish Brigade, which fought the Nazis in Italy during World War II, following an award ceremony on October 3, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Soon after Cividalli returned to Israel, he joined the burgeoning IDF and served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s 53rd Battalion during the 1948 Independence War, as well as the 1956 Sinai War and the 1967 Six Day War.

For Cpt. Daniel Sztulman, a company commander in the 7th Brigade’s 82nd Battalion who was born to an Italian immigrant mother and grew up speaking Italian, the medal connected his family’s history with his current military service.

Cpt. Daniel Sztulman of the IDF 7th Armored Brigade whose unit received the Gold Medal for Military Valor from the Italian government on October 3, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“I came here today because for me it’s symbolic, it brings things full circle,” he said.

“Honestly, I didn’t know the history before this. I’d heard about the brigade, that it took part in the liberation of Italy, but I didn’t know that most of the people in it later joined the 82nd Battalion, where I serve now,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the war, the Jewish Brigade remained in Europe for more than a year. Officially, the Jewish soldiers were charged with helping find and settle Holocaust survivors and refugees. Unofficially, they also took part in assassination campaigns of Nazi officers and helped smuggle Holocaust survivors and refugees through southern Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea into then-Palestine.

Cividalli, who later became an artist, said the medal and recognition were appreciated, but were too slow to arrive.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/73-years-on-italy-awards-jewish-brigade-medal-of-valor-for-fighting-nazis/

At Yad Vashem, Merkel says Germany has ‘everlasting’ duty to fight anti-Semitism

German chancellor, visiting Israel with her cabinet, says Nazi violence and persecution of European Jews ‘broke with civilization’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays a wreath during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on October 4, 2018 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays a wreath during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on October 4, 2018 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued her 24-hour visit to Israel on Thursday with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, and said Germany bore an “everlasting responsibility” to remember the tragedy and oppose anti-Semitism.

“Nearly 80 years ago, on the pogrom night of November 9, the Jewish people in Germany faced unprecedented hate and violence,” she said after her visit, reading out the message she wrote in the museum’s guestbook.

“But what followed were the unprecedented crimes of the Shoah and its break with civilization,” Merkel added. “From this comes the everlasting responsibility of Germany to remember this crime and to oppose anti-Semitism, xenophobia, hatred and violence.”

Later on Thursday, Merkel was meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, and will also receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University.
Merkel, who is accompanied by much of her cabinet, a large business delegation and her new czar for combating anti-Semitism, arrived in Israel on Wednesday night for the latest in a series of joint government consultations highlighting the countries’ close bond seven decades after the Holocaust, even as recent developments have tested the ties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet with Israeli and German businessmen at the Israel Museum Jerusalem on October 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

Her two-day visit is expected to focus on bilateral economic issues, with an emphasis on innovation, technology and development projects. But looming in the background will be sharp differences in Israeli and German policies toward Iran and the Palestinians.

Germany is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and for the past few decades has been one of its strongest allies. Israel was established three years after the end of World War II, and the German government has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust survivors and positioned itself as a leader in combating anti-Semitism.

But differences have been exacerbated following the election of US President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s staunchest international supporters, lauding him for pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal that Merkel and other world leaders helped negotiate in 2015. Netanyahu says the deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, does not include enough safeguards to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Trump also has largely refrained from criticizing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank — a subject of frequent European complaint — and has recognized Jerusalem as its capital and moved the US embassy there. He also has cut funding to the Palestinians and fully pinned the blame for stalled Mideast peace talks on them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 3, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu’s rapport with Merkel has been cordial though cool at times. Merkel has continued to champion the traditional approach to the Middle East peace process, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Germany, for instance, has been among the European countries calling on Israel to refrain from carrying out its plans to demolish a West Bank hamlet it says was illegally built.

Israel has offered to resettle the 180 Bedouin Palestinian residents of the Khan al-Ahmar encampment a few kilometers away. But Palestinians and their European backers say the demolition is aimed at displacing Bedouins in favor of settlement expansion and would deal a devastating blow to hopes for Palestinian statehood.

Children from the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar hold signs with the slogan “Save my school” as they protest outside President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem during his meeting on October 4, 2018 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrived the previous night on an official visit to Israel. (AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

The Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against the plans and residents are bracing for the move any day. Israeli forces are unlikely to carry it out during Merkel’s brief stay though, for fear of sparking a crisis.

Regardless, Israeli officials say they don’t expect that issue — or Merkel’s long-held preference for maintaining the Iran deal — to overshadow the visit, which is expected to bring about new economic agreements, the creation of a formal youth exchange and a renewed commitment to combating anti-Semitism, after Israel raised alarm over several recent cases in Germany.

Nazis’ aerial photography is helping map and preserve Jewish cemeteries

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Photographers capture a ceremony at a Jewish cemetery in Frampol, Poland. (ESJF)

LUBLIN, Poland (JTA) — When German air force pilots took aerial photographs of western Ukraine in 1941, they did it to help Nazi Germany defeat the Soviet Union in a war that saw the genocide of 6 million Jews.

But in a twist of fate, the German government has recently started funding an effort that uses the photographs to identify and preserve Jewish cemeteries.

The effort, in which the Luftwaffe archives are only one of several ingenious tools, began in 2015 with the establishment of an organization called the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, or ESJF. The largest-ever international project of its kind, ESJF has since fenced more than 100 Jewish cemeteries in seven countries on a modest annual budget of approximately $1 million.

And in Eastern Europe, fencing Jewish cemeteries is “not as straightforward as it may sound,” according to Philip Carmel, a British former journalist, the organization’s CEO since its creation.

Even determining the location of such graveyards can be challenging in towns with entire Jewish populations that were murdered and cemeteries plundered for construction material and then stolen for development.

That’s where the Luftwaffe aerial photographs enter the picture, Carmel said.

“Obviously they were taken to help the German war effort,” Carmel said of the prints and negatives that he pulled from German state archives. “But they were accurate enough to help us identify some Jewish cemeteries right before the destruction.”

In the western Ukrainian town of Buchach — the birthplace of the Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal — Jews for generations buried their dead atop a mound that in 1941 stood on the town’s northern margins.

But after the murder of the area’s 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust, the forest adjacent to the cemetery was allowed to swallow it up, leaving exposed only a few dozen headstones. Fragments of others used to lie in piles on the shoulders of the potholed asphalt road that snakes along Buchach’s Torgova Street.

The forest’s progression and the destruction caused to the headstones – locals throughout Eastern Europe steal them to use as sharpening stones or building material – complicated efforts to map the cemetery. The Luftwaffe aerials show its borders clearly, explained Carmel, who last year oversaw its demarcation. It is now set for fencing later this year, complete with retaining walls.

Jewish communities in Eastern Europe are struggling to maintain crumbling heritage sites from the prewar era. (ESJF)

ESJF recently began using engineering drones that can map a Jewish cemetery in a fraction of the time and cost that a team of surveyors would require.

Fencing is crucial, Carmel said, because it prevents further damage. While it neither helps restore damage nor prevent people who are determined to get in from climbing the fence, “It shows ownership, it indicates interest and it vastly reduces the chance of vandalism,” he said.

Jewish communities in Eastern Europe are struggling to maintain crumbling heritage sites from an era when the local Jewish population was many times greater than it is today, as are activists working to preserve Jewish cemeteries.

But ESJF is the best-funded and first international effort of its kind, active in an area with well over 10,000 Jewish cemeteries in various degrees of risk. And it is by far the most transparent, as per stringent reporting demands by the German treasury.

Whereas the bulk of the damage to Jewish cemeteries happened during World War II and under communism, they are still being degraded today at an alarming rate due to unregulated construction and vandalism.

Earlier this month, the construction of a state-funded sports complex in the town of Klimontow, Poland, was completed atop what activists say was a disused Jewish cemetery. Last year, a judge in Belarus cleared the way for the construction of apartments atop two former Jewish cemeteries in Gomel. And in Lithuania, the government is ignoring an international outcry over its plan to build a conference center on what used to be one Vilnius’ largest cemeteries, which the communists razed.

About a quarter of all Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe were destroyed during the Nazi and Soviet periods, according to Rabbi Isaac Schapira, the Israel-based founder and chairman of the ESJF board.

“Most of those that have remained lie neglected principally because their communities were wiped out in the Holocaust,” he said.

This is also the reason the German government decided to bankroll ESJF, according to Carmel.

As a rule, ESJF does not get involved in cemeteries featuring a legal or territorial dispute, like the ones in Klimontow, Gomel or Vilnius.

“Our objective is to fence as many Jewish cemeteries as possible in as little time as possible for the lowest cost,” Carmel said.

Instead of duking it out with local authorities and developers, ESJF tries to find compromises.

On a recent project, ESJF even purchased a small and cheap plot of land in a small Ukrainian town so it could serve as a Christian cemetery. It was the simplest way of getting the local Orthodox church, which did not want to bury Seventh-day Adventists in its Christian cemetery, to stop burying them atop older graves at a disused Jewish cemetery, Carmel said.

When it comes to halachah, or Jewish law, ESJF is strict in observing its rules on burial, Carmel said. But whenever possible, he said, the organization tries to compromise, keeping with its view that local partnerships are the only guarantee for the organization’s long-lasting impact.

“The cemeteries we fence, they are not being guarded,” Carmel said. “Ultimately the only way of making sure these places don’t get destroyed is to get the local population to think of their local Jewish cemetery as part of their own heritage.”

One success has been in Frampol, Poland, where dozens of schoolchildren joined ESJF’s fencing and cleanup of the local Jewish cemetery.

Another is the story of Katy Kryvko, a 17-year-old high school student from the Ukraine village of Derazhne, located about 100 miles north of Buchach. Two years ago Kryvko, who is not Jewish, contacted ESJF about a Jewish cemetery behind her home that the local children used as a playground.

“I was shocked when I realized that kids are playing literally at the cemetery,” she told JTA. “I didn’t understand why it was neglected and nobody cared about it.”

Her interest in the cemetery led Kryvko to study the tragic history of the region’s Jewish population, and to ESJF, which cleaned it up and fenced it last year.

“It’s so important for me because I know that I’m the only one person who can save the cemetery,” she said. “I mean, who can take care of it.”

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/09/26/news-opinion/nazis-aerial-photography-helping-map-preserve-jewish-cemeteries

This Holocaust survivor is pushing schools to teach students about genocide

By Spencer Parlier and Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

(CNN)He was the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. Now Alter Wiener is committed to sharing his story with as many young people as he can.

The 92-year-old sat in front of the Oregon State Senate Education Committee this week to share his deep desire to educate, inspire and spread love throughout America.
“Be better, rather than bitter,” Wiener said.
His first big step is to convince Oregon state legislators to create and pass a bill that would mandate educators to teach students about the Holocaust and genocide.
Holocaust remembrance has fallen, especially in younger generations. A 2018 survey from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22% of millennials “haven’t heard” or “are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.”
The survey also found that 31% of all Americans believe that 2 million Jews or less were killed during the Holocaust, when the actual numbers state that approximately 6 million Jews were put to death during the Holocaust.
Wiener was one of the few who survived. His tumultuous life included spending three years in concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz camp in Poland.
He has received approximately 88,000 letters in response to his life story, whether it was from people who heard him speak or read his autobiography.
Alter Wiener as a young boy, in a concentration camp.

Alter Wiener as a young boy, in a concentration camp.

“Each time I hear (Alter Wiener’s) story, walking away, I learn a different lesson — gratitude, love, appreciation, respect, compassion and most importantly, live life to the absolute fullest,” Sarnowski told the state Senate committee, holding back tears.
Claire Sarnowski speaks to the Oregon Education Committee.

Claire Sarnowski speaks to the Oregon Education Committee.

Wiener has made strides to change the law, and has met with nearly 1,000 groups to share his story.
Alter Wiener  addresses a group of students at River Grover Elementary School in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Alter Wiener addresses a group of students at River Grover Elementary School in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

State Sen. Rob Wagner told CNN he is currently working on draft legislation regarding Wiener’s request. He hopes to introduce it in late January.
Not only was Wagner motivated by Wiener, who he describes as a “bright light” and “sharp as a tack,” he was also struck by some of the things his daughters saw in school.
“Where my children are in school, there were swastikas and anti-Jewish posters that were plastered in our schools,” Wagner told CNN. “That precipitated a conversation with my children, and really was (what lead to) the decision that I wanted to run to help change the culture in our schools.”
The state senator hopes his bill will become a statute in May 2019.
“If we’re teaching the history of the 20th century, we should not be glossing over the Holocaust,” Wagner said.
If passed, Oregon would join 10 states in the United States that have similar mandates. Some of those states are California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, and New York.

Legendary French singer Charles Aznavour dies aged 94

Family of ‘French Sinatra’ were heroes of Resistance against Nazi occupation of France in World War II; Israel honored him last year for their efforts to protect Jews and others

  • French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour poses during a photo session in Paris on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET)

    French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour poses during a photo session in Paris on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET)

  • President Reuven Rivlin (L) presents French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour the Raoul Wallenberg medal on October 26, 2017, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

PARIS (AFP) — The legendary French singer Charles Aznavour — who said last week that he dreamed of breathing his last on stage — has died aged 94, his spokeswoman said.

The songwriter, who had just returned from a concert tour of Japan last month, passed away in his home in Alpilles in southeastern France.

But as late as Friday the diminutive singer told French television that though his Swedish-born wife wanted him to stop touring, he would happily die on stage.

“I always go forwards,” said the performer who tried to write a song every day. “There is no backwards step with me.

“All I can do is live, and I live on stage. I am happy up there, and you can see that,” he added.

The singer had planned to go back on tour later this month, starting with a concert in Brussels on October 26.

He was scheduled to play in Tel Aviv next July, having played a hugely successful concert there last year. On that visit, he was honored in Israel for his family’s efforts to protect Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. He received the honor from President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke of his love of Aznavour’s music, saying “La Boheme” was his favorite song.

President Reuven Rivlin is seen with French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour on October 26, 2017, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

President Reuven Rivlin is seen with French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour on October 26, 2017, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Rivlin presented him with The Raoul Wallenberg Award, named for the Swedish diplomat who helped thousands of Jews flee Nazi-controlled Hungary during World War II. Aznavour’s family “hid a number of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, while Charles and his sister Aida were involved in rescue activities,” Rivlin’s office said.

“We have so many things in common, the Jews and the Armenians, in misfortune, in happiness, in work, in music, in the arts and in the ease of learning different languages and becoming important people in the countries where they have been received,” Aznavour said at the time.

Multilingual and a tireless traveler, Aznavour was named “Entertainer of the Century” by CNN in 1998 because of his immense global popularity.

In the English-speaking world he was often dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra, but unlike the American crooner, he wrote his own songs, often breaking taboos about marriage, homosexuality and men talking about their emotions.

Born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian in Paris on May 22, 1924, to parents who had fled the genocide of ethnic Armenians as the Ottoman empire fell, Aznavour sold more than 180 million records in a career spanning eight decades and as many languages.

Family of Resistance heroes

His family were heroes of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, regularly risking death to hide Communist partisans in their tiny Paris apartment.

Aznavour got his big break after the war when he opened for the then rising French star Edith Piaf.

Piaf took him to America as her manager and songwriter while he worked on his voice, and urged him to get a nose job — advice he at first resisted.

He had his first number one hit in 1956 with “Sur Ma Vie” (In My Life). That was followed by one of his biggest hits, “Je M’voyais Deja” (It Will Be My Day).

In this file photo taken on January 20, 1982 French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour (R) talks with French actor Michel Serrault (C) and director Claude Chabrol in Concarneau, on the set of the film "Les fantome du chapelier". (AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE PREVEL)

In this file photo taken on January 20, 1982 French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour (R) talks with French actor Michel Serrault (C) and director Claude Chabrol in Concarneau, on the set of the film “Les fantome du chapelier”. (AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PIERRE PREVEL)

But it was his leading role in Francois Truffaut’s film “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960 that catapulted Aznavour to international fame.

Buoyed by its success he took New York’s Carnegie Hall by storm in 1963 before touring the world and seeing his songs recorded by stars from Ray Charles to Liza Minnelli and Fred Astaire.

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls was among the first leaders to react to his death, praising “this son of Armenian immigrants who became one of the greatest and most beautiful symbols of French brilliance.

“Adieu and thank you,” he tweeted.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/legendary-french-singer-charles-aznavour-dies-aged-94/