Hungarian lawmaker reportedly to honor Hitler ally on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Miklos Horthy, left, with Adolf Hitler in 1944. (Keystone/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A senior Hungarian lawmaker reportedly will attend a church’s ceremony honoring the Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy that is being held on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Sandor Lezsak, the deputy speaker of the parliament and a member of the ruling Fidesz ruling party, will be on hand for the Jan. 27 event at the Main Parish Church of the Assumption in Budapest, according to the invitation sent out by the KESZ group, a Christian organization.

“In the Holy Mass, we remember with affection and respect for the late governor of Miklos Horthy (1868-1957), who was born 150 years ago,” read the invitation, according to a report Tuesday in Szombat, the Jewish Hungarian weekly noted in an editorial. The event was “provocative,” the paper said, though it is not yet clear whether it was planned to take place on Jan. 27 for the date’s symbolic significance.

Also scheduled to attend is Sandor Szakaly, the head the Veritas Historical Research Institute, who said in a 2014 interview that the 1941 deportation and subsequent murder of tens of thousands of Jews was an “action of the immigration authorities against illegal aliens.”

In June, Hungarian Jews protested Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s inclusion of Horthy, who oversaw the murder of more than 500,000 Holocaust victims together with Nazi Germany, in a speech among those he called “exceptional statesmen” in Hungary for leading the country following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Orban had appointed Szakaly to lead the historical institute.

Horthy signed anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and 1939, as well as in 1920.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/01/24/news-opinion/world/report-hungarian-senior-lawmaker-to-honor-hitler-ally-on-holocaust-remembrance-day

Finland to probe troops’ alleged role in the Holocaust

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Finland will investigate evidence suggesting that soldiers from its army were involved in killing Jews during the Holocaust.

The announcement by the office of President Sauli Niinisto about the initiation of the probe, the first of its kind in Finland, came Wednesday in a letter to Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Earlier this month, Zuroff urged Niinisto to set up an inquiry following the discovery of written testimony by a Finnish Waffen SS officer who said he actively participated in the mass murder of Jews in Ukraine.

“The Finnish government will, in response to the recent concerns, fund a further independent survey of the operations of the Finnish Volunteers Battalion of the Waffen-SS and particularly examine its operations in Ukraine,” Hiski Haukkala, the secretary general chief of the Cabinet, wrote to Zuroff. “Should any criminal activities be uncovered they will be followed by due process,” he added.

Zuroff told JTA the probe will be “an important development” that is part of a broader process in Scandinavia, where in Denmark and Norway historians recently uncovered evidence on the roles of troops from their countries  in actively killing Jews.

The testimony suggesting active complicity in the Holocaust by at least six Finnish soldiers was discovered and flagged by Andre Swanström, the chairman of the Finnish Society of Church History.

Swanström quoted a letter by Finnish SS soldier Olavi Kustaa Aadolf Karpo to officer and military pastor Ensio Pihkala in which Karpo laments how he and his comrades were utilized for shooting Jews, when “for the execution of Jews less skilled personnel would have sufficed.”

In their letters, Karpo and fellow SS-men also protested being sent on a factory detail, while their brothers in arms got the chance to “shoot some pickle-headed Ivanovichs” – a reference to Russians. Following World War II, Karpo immigrated to Venezuela, where he died in 1988. At least five other Finns participated in the war crimes against Jews, Swanström wrote.

Finland, which for centuries has been engaged in land disputes with Russia featuring occupation, joined Germany in its attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. In the winter of 1944-45, the Finns began fighting against the Germans.

Finland had 2,300 Jews in its territory in 1939 whom it openly refused to surrender to its German ally despite repeated requests, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial  in Jerusalem. A police chief’s plan to deport in secret 300 non-Finnish Jews from the country was foiled and only eight were given over. Of those, only one survived the Holocaust.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/01/24/news-opinion/world/finland-to-probe-troops-alleged-role-in-the-holocaust

Rosensaft: Remembering the Holocaust and today’s ‘stateless’

Menachem Z. Rosensaft

When British troops entered the Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany on April 15, 1945, they found some 58,000 surviving inmates, the overwhelming majority of them Jews. Most were suffering from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition, and a host of other virulent diseases.

One of the survivors at Bergen-Belsen was my mother, Hadassah (Ada) Bimko, a dentist from Sosnowiec, Poland, who had by then spent 15 months at Auschwitz-Birkenau after her parents, first husband, and 5 1/2-year-old son were gassed upon arrival at the death camp. Assigned to Birkenau’s infirmary because of her medical training, she saved countless women by performing rudimentary surgery, camouflaging their wounds, and sending them on work details ahead of selections for the gas chambers.

In November 1944, she was sent to Bergen-Belsen where she and a small group of Jewish women kept 149 Jewish children alive through the harsh winter of 1944-1945.

A few days after liberation, the senior British medical officer at Bergen-Belsen appointed my mother to organize and head a group of sufficiently healthy survivors to help care for the camp’s thousands of critically ill inmates. For weeks on end, my mother and her team of 28 doctors and 620 other volunteers, only a few of them trained nurses, worked round the clock with the military personnel to try to save as many lives as possible. Despite their desperate efforts, the Holocaust claimed 13,944 additional victims during the two months following liberation.

“For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen,” my mother recalled many years later, “there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug, nobody who was waiting for us, anywhere. We had been liberated from death and from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life.”

By May 21, 1945, the survivors of Bergen-Belsen were moved from what the British called the “horror camp” to a nearby German military base that became the largest of many Displaced Persons camps. An Aug. 17, 1946, New York Times editorial estimated that there were “about 157,000 homeless Jews in British, French and American zones of Germany, in Austria and in Italy. Another 100,000 are expected to leave Poland.”

These Jewish DPs included not just physicians like my mother, but also lawyers, rabbis, engineers, scholars, merchants, writers, actors, artists, musicians, and athletes who had been successful, productive members of their communities before the war, but were now subjected to disparagement and discrimination.

As early as July 1945, the World Jewish Congress charged that the Jewish DPs “not only are detained as virtual prisoners in Germany in conditions of abject misery but are treated with a callous and shameful neglect by Allied Military Control authorities.”

Gen. George S. Patton, the American military governor of Bavaria, wrote in his journal that he considered the Jewish DPs to be “lower than animals.” U.S. Sen. William Chapman Revercomb (R.-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee, reportedly told his colleagues that, “We could solve this DP problem all right if we could work out some bill that would keep out the Jews.”

I am one of approximately 2,000 Jewish children born in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp. In due course, our families established new homes for ourselves in the United States, Israel, Canada, and elsewhere. But just as Jews are commanded at the Passover Seder to remember that we were slaves in Egypt, I can never forget that my parents and I were once stateless refugees.

Today as we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I would ask you to engage on a personal level to make sure that the murder of six million Jews remains an integral part of our collective consciousness. The process is simple — take a photo of yourself holding a “We Remember” sign, and post it to social media using the hashtag #WeRemember. By doing so, you will forge a link in a sacred chain of memory.

 Menachem Z. Rosensaft is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress. He teaches about the law of genocide at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities. Talk back at letterstoeditor@bostonherald.com.

 

What Today’s Refugees Can Learn from Holocaust Survivors About the Human Spirit

BY JEAN BLOCH ROSENSAFT

Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on January 27, 1945, the date that is now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Following World War II, Europe was flooded with millions of displaced persons (DPs), including 250,000 Jewish survivors who were unable and unwilling to return to their nations of origin. Many Jews were confined to DP camps in Allied-occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy for as long as a decade.

Among them were my parents and parents-in-law, who were leaders of the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp in the British Zone of Germany. “For the greatest part of liberated Jews, there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation,” recalled my mother-in-law, Dr. Hadassah Rosensaft, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. “We had lost our families, our homes. We had been liberated from death and the fear of death, but not from the fear of life.”

The ways in which the stateless Jewish DPs transitioned from persecuted refugees to productive citizens in their new countries may be instructive today, as we witness what Human Rights Watch has called “the largest global displacement crisis since World War II.”

The European Union’s objective – “to strengthen the resilience and self-reliance of both the displaced and their host communities…by helping them to access education, housing, land, livelihoods, and services” – is framed, in part, on the historical achievements of Jewish survivors, who managed to turn DP camps into vibrant centers for rehabilitation. With the material assistance of international organizations, Jewish DPs organized their own physical, emotional, and spiritual rehabilitation.

As part of the healing process, survivors made it one of their first priorities to establish symbolic memorials for parents, spouses, children, and siblings who were murdered in the ghettos, forests, camps, and other places across Europe. The survivors also served as principal witnesses for the prosecution at war crimes trials, including the Belsen Trial, at which my mother-in-law testified about the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Survivor rabbis and American and British military chaplains tended to their religious needs. In addition to conducting services, establishing religious schools, and mikvaot (ritual baths), these rabbis addressed such complex issues as the plight of agunoth and agunim (survivors who had married before or during the war, whose spouses had disappeared and who required a designation of widowhood in order to remarry), and the determination of Jewish identity of those in the camps who had been deemed “half” and “quarter” Jews under the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws.

Liberated children poured into the DP camps from the concentration camps, ghettos, and hiding places in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – some with their families, many alone. The reunification of families was facilitated by mimeographed lists of survivors displayed at the DP camps, but most survivors suffered from the heartbreaking knowledge that they were truly alone in the world.

The survivors who were educators came forward to teach and restore the children’s capacity for fun. As the children spoke different languages, Hebrew was designated as the common language for instruction.

Vocational training provided a crucial outlet for the energies of thousands of young adults in the DP camps, preparing them for their future livelihood. Some, like my mother who studied medicine at the University of Bonn, pursued higher degrees. Sports activities became a popular outlet for recreation, socialization, and enhanced physical well-being.

Soon after liberation, the survivors began to marry, seeking to create an atmosphere of living for the future and not in the past. The largest recorded birth rate in post-war Europe took place among the Jewish DPs; my husband was among the 2000 Jewish children born in the Bergen-Belsen DP Camp.

Politically, the DP’s greatest effort was the struggle to re-establish their historic homeland in Eretz Yisrael. David Ben Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, visited the DP camps during November 1945 and later wrote, “The faith I found among the survivors strengthened the spirit of our fighters in the Homeland.”

With the establishment of the state in 1948, legal immigration became a reality, and many of the survivors were finally able to immigrate to Israel, where they were among the builders, fighters, and defenders of the Jewish state. Liberalized immigration quotas eventually allowed the remaining survivors to settle in the United States, Canada, and other countries.

In the DP camps, healing engendered hope. Many survivors stopped seeing themselves as victims and found the courage and fortitude to rebuild their lives.

Their determination and resilience testify to the indestructible human spirit and will, hopefully, be a source of strength and inspiration for refugees in our own day.

Saturday, January 27, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the date the United Nations General Assembly has designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Source: https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2018/01/26/what-todays-refugees-can-learn-holocaust-survivors-about-human-spirit

At this Holocaust museum, you can speak with holograms of survivors

By Ellen Braunstein

A holographic image of Holocaust survivor Sam Harris on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill. (Ron Gould)

SKOKIE, Ill. (JTA) — In an otherwise darkened theater, viewers gasped when they saw what appeared to be a seated 83-year-old man wearing a light green button-down shirt and khaki pants.

Aaron Elster of Chicago seemed to be answering questions about his unbelievable escape from the Sokolov ghetto in Poland as a 10-year-old. Elster was forced to hide in a dark, filthy attic for two years during World War II.

“Why didn’t your sisters run away with you [from the ghetto]?” asked Suri Johnson, 11, of Wisconsin. A docent repeated the question into a microphone.

“It was an impossibility,” Elster responded. “There were hundreds of people guarded by Ukrainian soldiers with rifles … There was no way they could have run. I crawled behind the people on my stomach. They didn’t see me.”

The testimony was remarkable, moving. But it wasn’t the real Elster they were seeing. Instead the audience was interacting with a holographic image of the Holocaust survivor that was created two years before.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located in this suburb about 15 miles north of Chicago, is the first to permanently showcase the New Dimensions in Testimony oral history project, which has created holographic images from extensive interviews of 15 Holocaust survivors. The images of the seven survivors from Chicago are shown on rotation at the center.

The images are produced by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, along with the USC Shoah Foundation — a nonprofit that famed director Steven Spielberg founded in 1994 to preserve Holocaust and other genocide survivor testimonies. The museum’s new $5 million center, titled Take A Stand, opened in October.

(The images currently on display are technically not true holograms — they are the product of two-dimensional technology and the Pepper’s ghost illusion technique — but are still vivid.)

Aaron Elster filming on a set in Los Angeles. (Ron Gould)

At the Illinois museum, visitors can find the holographic displays in a theater dedicated to the exhibit. Before any conversation happens, viewers are shown a five-minute introductory video narrated by the featured survivor. After the video, which tells the survivor’s individual story, the image leans forward and says, “But I have so much more to tell you. Now I’d like you to ask me questions.” Then it switches to interactive mode.

The hologram of each survivor can conceivably answer thousands of questions. Much like Apple’s Siri technology, the voice-recognition system responds to audience questions by picking up on key words.

After asking her question, Suri Johnson told JTA that she found the experience very “cool,” partly because she had no idea how it worked.

“It enables the most life-like conversational opportunity that you can possibly imagine,” said the museum’s CEO, Susan Abrams.

Aaron Elster stands in front of his hologram. (Ron Gould)

The project was envisioned by Heather Maio, the managing director of Conscience Display, which specializes in exhibition design and interactive storytelling. Her company typically creates realistic combat scenes, complete with visuals and dialogue, for military personnel to drill with.

Maio, who is married to Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, thought an exhibit that allowed people to casually walk up to Holocaust survivors and ask them questions could create a powerful experience.

“This kind of visual imagery and interactivity will be the norm for the next generation, and that’s what we’re preparing for,” Smith said.

The project took a toll on Elster, an insurance agency owner who has lived in Chicago since 1947. He had to fly to Los Angeles two years ago for a grueling week of interviews, in which he wore the same clothes every day and sat still in a chair for hours at a time under bright lights and cameras, answering difficult questions — 2,000 in all — that brought up a painful past.

“It was very emotional. I cried initially and I don’t take to crying,” Elster said of the first time he saw his testimony played back for him.

Smith said the project could have been successful even if each survivor were asked fewer questions. But the comprehensiveness of each testimony gave each testimony extra character depth.

“If you were just going to ask the question, ‘where were you born, or what camps were you in, or what did you feel like when you were liberated,’ we could do that quite easily in 200 questions,” Smith said. “But the point to which they say, ‘So tell me about the psychological consequences of slave labor,’ or something like that, then you have a more nuanced question, for which [the holographic display] has an answer.”

Elster, now 85, is quite pleased with the final product, and is confident his testimony will resonate with younger generations. On its own, the Illinois Holocaust museum, the third largest in the world and created partly in response to an attempt by neo-Nazis to march in this heavily Jewish suburb in the late 1970s, welcomes 60,000 students and educators annually.

“As survivors, we’re concerned and afraid that our pain, our loss, our surviving will be forgotten or homogenized,” he said. “They’ve created something that’s going to live on much after we’re gone.”

A New York Times documentary about the project, called “116 Cameras” and making the rounds of film festivals, shows the space-age contraption in which they film the survivors.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City began piloting the project in July. Its two holograms will be on display for the public through April.

Additional pilots, open to the public, are being tested at the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto and the Holocaust Museum in Houston. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., ended its pilot on Labor Day after several months. The Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, also has piloted the project and plans to install a permanent display that will open this fall.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/01/22/life-religion/at-this-holocaust-museum-you-can-speak-with-holograms-of-survivors

RARE 1546 BOOK LOOTED BY NAZIS RETURNED TO FAMILY IN ISRAEL

BY LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI

The book was returned to the family as part of a German initiative to return Nazi looted heirlooms to their rightful owners.

Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (Bastian Wiesemann/Potsdam University Press). (photo credit: BASTIAN WIESEMANN/POTSDAM UNIVERSITY PRESS)

A book printed in 1546 that was looted in Poland by the Nazis during World War II was recently found in the University of Potsdam Library and returned to its rightful owners in Israel.

The book, Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, written by Rabbi Moses of Coucy and printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberri, explains the fundamentals of the 613 commandments of the Torah.
The book was returned to the family as part of a German initiative to return Nazi looted heirlooms to their rightful owners.
Berl Schor and his son David, an attorney, flew to Berlin to accept the book from the University of Potsdam on Monday and reunite it with the family’s extensive collection in Israel.

David Schor, a keen family historian, told The Jerusalem Post that he had identified the book online by coincidence.

“I often search online because many new documents and information are becoming more readily available,” he said. “I typed in the name of my father’s maternal great, great, great grandparents just for the sheer fun and all of a sudden the photograph of the book appeared on my screen.”

Schor said he was “surprised” to see that one of the books in the Potsdam library had the same stamps and signatures as many books in his family’s library.
The Schor-Frankel family collection of Hebrew books dates back to the very beginning of the history of print. These books were acquired “not to decorate the book shelves,” but were intensely studied and passed on from generation to generation, Schor said.

After the death of Berl Schor’s grandparents, Berl Frankel and his wife, Sara, the Frankel Library joined the library of their son-in-law, Majer Schor (Berl Schor’s father), from Krakow.

Majer Schor and his wife, Mila, (Marjem Mirla) were Turkish citizens and as such were immune from Nazi persecution and decrees, even though they were Jewish.

Schor said his grandparents decided to remain in Krakow to help other Jews by engaging in anti-Nazi activities, such as transferring money, supplying false documentation and smuggling people out of Nazi-occupied Poland. The Schor family’s house also served as a “safe house’’ for anyone who needed shelter or a bed for a night.

When the couples’ Turkish passports were set to expire, they applied for their renewal.

However, the Turkish consul general in Berlin, H. Basri Danismend, sent a letter on October 15, 1942 to the Gestapo in Krakow, informing them that he is “honored” to advise that the Turkish citizenship of the Schor Family had been canceled. No such notice was sent to the Schor family.

“By sheer luck,” Schor explained, the letter was seen on the Gestapo chief’s desk by a police officer of the “Blue Police,” a Polish police force subordinate to the Nazis, who knew Majer Schor.

The officer warned Majer, and the Schor family was able to escape and go into hiding.

According to Schor, the original letter was found 70 years later in the Polish National Archives in Krakow.

Upon going underground, Majer Schor arranged with a friend of his, Prof. Tadeusz Kowalski, an Orientalist at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, to store the Schor-Frankel Family Library for safekeeping in the cellars of the university.

Majer and Mila Schor were able to elude the Nazis for seven months, but were eventually identified and arrested as they attempted to escape by car. They were sent to the Plaszow concentration camp on the outskirts of Krakow and were murdered by the notorious commandant of the camp, Amon Goth, on July 8, 1943.

“Though my grandparents did not survive that war, quite a few thousand volumes did survive,” Schor said.

After the war, the library was returned to the family who fled from Poland, via Russia and Japan to New Zealand. The collection was later transferred to Israel after Berl Schor made aliya, and it has been in his possession ever since.

“Our family lost not only a lot of lives in the Holocaust, but also a lot of wealth and art, as well as books,” Schor said, adding that many family possessions were still missing.

In 1998/1999, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and Germany’s federal, state and municipal declaration on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated cultural assets, especially from Jewish holdings, provided the foundation for provenance research.

These declarations called upon public libraries, museums and archives to identify any of their holdings that might be Nazi loot, to identify any possible heirs, and to return the affected volumes.

To date, however, Schor explained that only six such institutions, including the University of Potsdam Library undertook actions to assess whether any of their holdings are Nazi loot.

The research is funded by the German Lost Art Foundation. At the Potsdam library, it is led by Andreas Kennecke, subject librarian responsible for Jewish studies and Jewish theology, and project associate Anke Geißler-Grünberg.

“The University of Potsdam Library became the first German institute to identify and return a looted book in accordance with this project,” said Schor.

Three additional German libraries: the Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Library, the Freie Universität Berlin University Library and the Berlin Central and Regional Library, together with the University of Potsdam Library have published a list of 12,000 books that may have been looted by the Nazis and that are in their possession.

“This should be brought to the attention of the public at large to see if they can find any books belonging to them,” said Schor.
Schor said his family wished to thank the Potsdam library for having published the list in which the book was found and the “correct and elegant manner” in which it was returned.

Potsdam University asked for permission, which the Schor family “gladly gave,” to digitalize the book so that it will be available for future reference and research.

“The university was so excited to see us and return the book to us and now it will join the collection in Israel where it should belong,” Schor said.

The list of books can be found at http://lootedculturalassets.de

Two Berlin museums return works to heirs of Jewish collector

(JTA) — Two Berlin museums have returned works to the heirs of a Jewish collector who liquidated them during World War II, according to the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage.

The foundation returned 11 works from the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Skulpturensammlung that had belonged to Margarete Oppenheim, whose family was forced to sell them at a deflated price to the National Socialists in 1936.

Margarete Oppenheim, widow of the chemist and industrialist Franz Oppenheim, died in 1935, six years after her husband. Her collection has been described as one of Germany’s largest and most valuable, containing works by Impressionists and small sculptures, as well as of porcelain, majolica, faience and silver work.

The state arranged for the return of the works in keeping with the 20-year-old Washington Declaration signed by 44 countries committing themselves to seeking long-lost artwork that ended up in museums and other public collections. Germany was among the signers.

Five of the 11 works returned to the Oppenheim heirs were repurchased by the museums — two paintings on Christian religious themes from the 16th-century Donau School, and three 18th-century porcelain objects produced by the Meissen and Frankenthal firms.

The foundation has overseen the return of some 350 works of art and more than 1,000 books to the heirs of persecuted Jews.

Its president, Hermann Parzinger, said in a statement that he was grateful to the heirs for their role in coming to a “fair and just solution,” and added that the foundation remained dedicated to researching the provenance of works in Berlin museums.

Imke Gielen, spokeswoman for the law firm of Rowland & Associates, said the heirs appreciated the foundation’s procedure for return of the works, as well as the “tireless efforts of the foundation” to uncover the history of the works in its collection.

According to the foundation, Margarete Oppenheim had ordered the executors of her estate to auction her works after her death “at the most appropriate moment” and reinvest the funds in her estate. But because the auction took place in May 1936, at a time when Jews were being persecuted and pressured to divest of their property at greatly deflated value, the auction is considered to have been forced and thus illegitimate, according to the Washington Declaration.

Provenance researchers have found two additional objects that Margarete Oppenheim had lent to the museums personally and were never returned.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/01/22/news-opinion/world/two-berlin-museums-return-works-to-heirs-of-jewish-collector

Polish neo-Nazis thrive as authorities fail to act, Jewish community leader says

Thousands of people marching at Poland´s annual Independency Day march in Warsaw. (Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Following a television report about neo-Nazis in Poland, the leader of the country’s federation of Jewish communities said that extremists are thriving due to inaction by the government.

A TVN report over the weekend featured young men filmed displaying swastikas and speaking positively about Adolf Hitler. The report showed about 10 individuals from the Pride and Modernity group who celebrated Hitler’s birthday on April 20 at a private residence with a cake featuring a swastika glaze. They also burned a swastika made of wood.

Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, called out Polish authorities on Facebook in responding to the documentary.

“What else has to happen for us to look open our eyes, the authorities say that fascism and nazism are not tolerated in Poland,” he wrote. “I want to believe in these words, but let authorities do their job.”

Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro vowed to act tough on the group and individuals pictured, who broke the law by displaying Nazi symbols.

“After Nazi Germany attacked, millions of people were murdered in occupied Poland, including three million Poles,” Ziobro wrote.

It is estimated that the Germans killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War II, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition, the Germans murdered at least 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland.

In Poland, the term “Poles” is often used in the media and by officials to designate non-Jewish Polish citizens, whereas Jewish ones are referred to as “Jews.”

If someone “honors Adolf Hitler, who is one of the greatest criminals in history, he deserves to be treated to the full extent of the law,” Ziobro told the PAP news agency. “In such situations, the prosecutor’s office will always be firm.”

World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer in a statement welcomed the Polish government’s “swift condemnation of fascist activities.” But, he added, “Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are rising at an alarming rate in Poland, rearing their ugly heads beyond the fringes of society and into the mainstream.

“Sadly,” he added, “this was hardly an isolated incident and must not be treated as such.”

In November, during a nationalist rally on Poland’s Independence Day in Warsaw, some participants carried anti-Muslim banners and chanted anti-Semitic slogans. A total of 60,000 people attended.

Piszewski’s Union of Jewish Communities in Poland has appealed to Polish politicians for help against what his organization has called a rise in far-right activities under the right-wing Law and Justice party. Piszewski said this is creating a security threat for members of the community.

But other Jewish community organizations, including the TSKZ cultural group, are disputing the assertion. They have accused Piszewski of exaggerating the problem in Poland as part of a “political battle” with the government, as TSKZ President Artur Hoffman termed it last year.

Source: https://www.jta.org/2018/01/22/news-opinion/world/polish-neo-nazis-thrive-as-authorities-fail-to-act-jewish-community-leader-says